Texas Caviar

A tasty get-rich-quick scheme.
Photograph by Jody Horton

There are those who adore the black-eyed pea and those who deem it better suited to the provisioning of livestock. But there aren’t many Texans who won’t eat just a few on New Year’s Day in adherence to the notion that doing so brings good fortune for the year ahead. And what better way to choke ’em down than in the form of Texas caviar, a festive contribution to our culinary canon by Helen Corbitt: ambivalent Texas transplant (at least initially), longtime director of food service for Neiman Marcus’s Zodiac Room, fearless burr in the saddle of Texas cookery. Legend has it that the sophisticated New Yorker, new to the state and tasked with preparing a fancy dinner using only locally grown foods, almost met her match in the humble cowpeas, which she was none too fond of. Hoping to make them both posh and palatable, she pickled the little devils and unwittingly created one of the Lone Star State’s favorite party dishes.

I’m with Corbitt: there’s no love lost between me and the legumes. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t take a liking to this gussied-up hoed roe from Tom Perini’s Texas Cowboy Cooking . I found my expectations upended, not unlike Corbitt herself, who, if one can infer from the intro to her first cookbook, found a way to make peace with the peas and her adopted home to boot: “Life, and especially Texas, has been good to this Yankee girl.”

4 cups cooked black-eyed peas (as they are not in season, I recommend frozen or dried)
1/2 cup chopped green onions (tops and bottoms)
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 cup diced tomato
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 medium jalapeño, seeded and diced
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup vinegar (I used red-wine)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Rinse and drain the peas. Add the onions, tomato, garlic, and jalapeño. Add the oil, vinegar, and herbs and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate immediately and let marinate for at least 6 hours, stirring occasionally. Drain marinade and serve chilled. Serves 10

Adapted from Texas Cowboy Cooking , by Tom Perini. Published by Comanche Moon.

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