Cowboy Caviar

A couple of columns ago, I wrote about a lovely multi-generation dinner party I attended. It was so much fun! Twenty-two of us dined at a long rectangular table. I sat next to an articulate 12 year old boy named Anthony. My first impression was that he had jumped straight out of the Renaissance era and into the twenty-first century. He looked the part with his long blond hair and handsome, poetic features. We struck up a conversation and he told me about a week long cooking camp he had just attended. As you know, food is one of my favorite topics so the conversation was quite lively.

I was curious about cooking camp and peppered him with questions. “Anthony, what did you make?” “One thing a day: dirt cake, cowboy caviar, lemonade, cheesecake, muffins, and biscuits”, he replied. “What was your favorite”? “There were two; cheesecake and cowboy caviar.” In all my years of cooking I had never heard of Cowboy Caviar and I wanted to know all about it. His colorful description of this vegetarian dish made my mouth water, and suddenly I felt very hungry. Cowboy Caviar is definitely an “un-recipe”, lending itself to a versatile mix and match of ingredients. I kicked it up a notch and made the dish with heirloom red and black beans that I purchased from Rancho Gordo in Napa Valley.

For the Salad:

Beans, cooked or canned such as black, kidney, or pinto
2 bell peppers, any color
Small red onion
2-3 tomatoes, diced
1-2 jalapeno peppers
Green onions

For the dressing:

⅓ cup olive oil
⅓ cup red wine vinegar
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp honey or sugar
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the salad ingredients. Whisk together the dressing. Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss. Cover and let marinate for at least two hours. Before serving, taste and adjust the seasoning if needed, such as adding a dash of hot sauce if you like it spicy. This is a versatile dish; you can eat it as a dip with tortilla chips, a side salad, or a topping for grilled meats, or in tacos and burritos. Anthony said the salad was left to marinate overnight and that was too long. I drained the excess dressing after a couple of hours, and added it just before serving.

I asked Anthony about his number one take-away from the camp and his answer surprised me. He was alarmed that so many of the students had no cooking skills. One student even cut cheese with a breadknife. Oh my! Maybe someday I can go to cooking camp too. That would surely be like vacation.