Kitchn Love Letters

The Universally Perfect, All-Seasons Bean Dish I Bring to Every Potluck

updated Apr 27, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Twelve years of living in the southern U.S. taught me two things: Good manners go a long way, and it isn’t a party, potluck, tailgate, or baby shower without cowboy caviar.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of tasting this ubiquitous bean salad, it’s a little like if a bean salad and salsa had a delicious, chip-ready baby. Some folks call it Dixie caviar, and others call it Texas caviar, but the basics of the dish are always the same: Canned beans, crisp veggies, and tangy tomatoes get tossed in a spicy lime dressing and served alongside tortilla chips.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Why I Love Cowboy Caviar for Potlucks

Cowboy caviar is my go-to potluck party contribution. Not only is it super easy to prep ahead, but it also keeps well at room temperature, and doesn’t become a food safety issue in warm temps. Plus, it meets a wide number of dietary restrictions with ease. And it happens to be one of those dishes that works well as a side on its own or as the start of a really good salad. Toss it with a bag of prepared coleslaw cabbage and carrots and it might not even need extra dressing. It can be spooned atop grilled steaks or BBQ sandwiches with delicious results.

But what I love most about cowboy caviar for potlucks is that it’s a no-worry dish. I don’t worrying about keeping it cool, as it’s fine at room temperature. I don’t worry about how to serve it — I can literally put an open bag of tortilla chips next to it and walk away. I don’t have to worry about leftovers because there won’t be any. And I don’t have to worry about dietary restrictions: Even my vegan and gluten-free friends can enjoy it (although if I’m serving gluten-free friends I always check my chips — most tortilla chips are gluten free).

Credit: Meghan Splawn

How I Make Cowboy Caviar for a Crowd

Kitchn contributor (and my IRL BFF) Patty Catalano was the first person to introduce me to the kind of cowboy caviar that uses two types of beans — black beans (Texas) and black-eyed peas (Dixie) — and told me that I should always at least double the recipe.

In the summer, I use really ripe tomatoes and fresh sweet corn. When the weather cools off I opt for cherry tomatoes (sometimes I oven-roast them first, if I have time) and frozen or canned corn. A shallot swaps well for the red onion and I often use whatever herbs I have (or skip the herbs) — basically you can adapt this recipe a million ways and still have a party snack that everyone will love. Just don’t skimp on the garlic or the limey vinaigrette.

Get the recipe: Cowboy Caviar

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.