Kitchn Love Letters

Why I’ve Been Bringing “Cowboy Caviar” to Every Single Potluck for More Than a Decade

published May 29, 2024
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

There wasn’t a single summer gathering when I was growing up that I can remember where my family didn’t put out a bowl of Cowboy Caviar. My mom was a good cook, but not the most adventurous (probably thanks to my dad being notoriously picky — he hand-picks the stems off of baby spinach bc he doesn’t like their texture, if you can believe it) so when a recipe sticks in our family and gets rave reviews all around, it sticks. It never leaves the rotation. Cowboy Caviar was the appetizer of our family — a big beloved bowl over which we caught up.

And I get why: It is that easy to love. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it. The combination of beans and veggies all tossed together in a zippy dressing just works. And it’s one of those dips that’s easy to eat with tortilla chips (my preference) or straight from the bowl with a fork. Make it lunch! (If you want a summer dish that has similar flavors as this, this make-ahead bean salad recipe is for you.) More reasons to like it: You can throw it together in about 15 minutes, and it’s best when made a few hours or even a whole day ahead; the flavors marinate and mingle. 

Get the recipe: Cowboy Caviar

Credit: Joe Lingeman

What Makes This Cowboy Caviar So Good

I’ve made several different riffs off Cowboy Caviar over the years, but the general gist is always the same: canned beans, tomato, pepper, onion, and corn (can use fresh, canned, or frozen) tossed with a delicious vinaigrette. There were times when I was growing up when — to save time — we’d reach for the Italian dressing seasoning packet (my mom’s fave) and not bother with making a vinaigrette from scratch, but it does make a difference when you do! Trust me. 

This olive oil-based vinaigrette has lime juice, spices you likely already have around (cumin, oregano, chili powder), and salt and pepper. You’ll whisk it up in two minutes. Which is nothing compared to all the time everyone will sit around a bowl of this.

Get the recipe: Cowboy Caviar