NON-Cowboy Caviar: Beat the Heat

When the weather is warmer or more humid than I like, or when I don’t want something packed with calories disguised as butter, or cream, or bacon, I crave food that has a bite, some salt, and involves work.

No, the work isn’t about the preparation — it’s about chewing.  Chewing, crunching, and savoring the most amazing combination of flavors, that is.

Oh, and little or no heat.  That would be heat from a stove or a grill, because I can’t imagine life without the heat that comes from a nice jalapeno.  And since Grace of A Southern Grace is having a little “Beat the Heat” shindig over at her place, I thought this just might be perfect.

The first time I made this salsa it was the early ’90s and I was desperate for food packed with nutrients, and absolutely no fat.  I’d had my youngest son a year earlier, thought I was looking just fine, and then saw a photo of myself at a wedding that rudely informed me otherwise. Where, oh where did that second chin come from?   So, I was hell bent for leather to lose weight and get fit.  No-fat diets were all the rage back then, and I went a bit crazy eating things like fresh strawberries dipped in Cool Whip, and smearing apple butter on my dry toast.  Eating lots and lots of pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil.  And, wonder of all wondrous things, learning how to stomach non-fat milk.  Unbelievable.  For exercise, I took a swimming test, then promptly learned how to row.  You know.  Those long skinny boats that lots of people sit in with the slidey seats?  They all stroke at the same time when that person at the end yells at them?  Yes, those.  I know.  I was 36 years old.  What in hell was I doing?  Well, the other women were my age and older, so that made it easy (such a liar…)  But they were buff, and I was, um…pudgy.

Where was I?

Salsa. About that time, I started making this salsa. Wait.  Salad.  So, maybe it’s a salsa salad.  I think that’s the closest name for it, although in years since, I have seen it called Cowboy Caviar, which some people think morphed from Texas Caviar.  Now, I learned what I know about cowboys from old movies, and I’m not, nor ever will be from Texas. And most importantly, I have lived in San Diego for most of my life, so there’s no way I’d call my chunky bowl of low carb, low fat flavor either of those names.


Besides, some of the other versions have ingredients that are NOTHING like mine.  They call for:

  • Sugar.  Sugar?  Yes, the recipe I just saw on a site that will remain unnamed called for 1/2 cup sugar. *yuck?*  How could you taste anything else?  Why bother to put in the veggies?
  • Oil — 3/4 cup of vegetable oil.  Wow.  That’s a ton of oil for anything.  Like a bit of salad with that fat, do yah?
  • Canned tomatoes.  *pauses while supressing a bit of nausea*  Okay, I can see how this might be necessary — especially in a pinch.  Like when you find out the fresh tomatoes you thought were fresh are moldy.  But only then.  Seriously. *shudder*
  • Pickled jalapenos.  I could talk a very long time about this, but will spare you.  Pickled jalapenos and fresh jalapenos have absolutely nothing in common.  Okay, yes, they’re the same chili, but that’s where the commonalities end.  The only thing pickled jalapenos are used for are nachos.  Especially ball park nachos.  With extra cheese sauce, please.
  • Eggplant.  Now this is actually interesting.  And when I made this latest batch of my salsa salad, I did happen to have an eggplant which is quite lonely right now since I’ve forgotten what I bought it for. But after thinking about it, the eggplant would dominate the flavor and it wouldn’t taste like my salsa salad anymore.  Maybe something Italian, though.
  • Celery.  Sure, it’s crunchy, but nope.  Not in this.  It just doesn’t work.  It would change the entire taste.  Celery belongs in other things like my mom’s potato salad, and chicken noodle soup or gumbo. School lunch boxes.  I like celery, but not in this.  No way.
  • Cabbage.  Hmmm…I can see that the crunchiness is perfect, but in much the same way that celery doesn’t work, cabbage isn’t quite there, either.  Close, but no cigar.  Cabbage would definitely make it more salad than salsa.  It would be hilarious to see someone balance shards of cabbage on a loaded tortilla chip and actually get it all into their mouth, however.
  • Black-eyed peas.  This is what seems to most characterize Cowboy Caviar.  I’ve never made mine with them, however, since I think of black-eyed peas as belonging in a steamy pot with greens.
  • Cumin.  I like cumin and use it frequently.  Since I focus more on the chunky stuff in my recipe than the other ingredients, I haven’t thought of using cumin.  It sounds like it would be tasty, though.  So maybe.
  • I still can’t get over the sugar.  OMG.  Seriously.

But there are other versions that are very, very similar to mine.

What exactly are the rules for my salsa, anyway?  You know me — they change depending on what I have in the house, and whether I want a salsa or a salad, but the basics are always present — and one ingredient that shouldn’t be left out if you can avoid it.

NON-Cowboy Caviar — Kelly’s “Beat the Heat” Salsa


For the chunks…

  • Fresh tomatoes:   cut in chunks, seeded, or not
  • Cucumbers:  peeled or not, seeded or not, English or not
  • Onions:  chopped red, green, or both
  • Black beans:  canned, cold, drained and rinsed well
  • Corn:  freshly scraped off the cob or canned, and yummy if it’s grilled or browned in a skillet first
  • Cilantro:  Fresh, chopped, stems and all
  • Avocado:  Firm and ripe, chopped
  • Cotija cheese:  crumbled

For the flavorings…

  • Garlic:  Fresh and chopped
  • Jalapeno:  Fresh and minced, roasted is perfect
  • Lime juice:  Fresh squeezed
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Salsa Verde:  Canned, and Embasa if you can find it.  Absolutely have to have it. *swoon*



  1. Chop and layer all the chunks at least 30 minutes before serving.  Trifle bowls are great for this.  Mix the other flavors in a small bowl and let sit until about 10 minutes to serving.  When you’re ready to serve, pour the sauce mixture over the ingredients and toss well.  Taste and adjust flavor to your liking.  Mine usually needs a bit more salt, more heat, and added tang.
  2. If you’re making it for the family, then just mix the ingredients in a bowl without messing around with the layers.  Most of the time, we can’t wait, so dig in with a tortilla chip that can stand up to shoveling it in our mouths without snapping off.
  3. I’ve taken this to Little League team parties and have seen the kids demolish the bowl in record time.

Recipe Notes:

Other ingredients I’ve added from time to time...

  • Rice:  cooked and cooled
  • Feta:  instead of cotija
  • Green chilis:  canned, drained, chopped
  • Peppers:  orange, yellow, or both, seeded and chopped
  • Corn:  canned, Green Giant confetti style
  • Chicken:  cold chunks
  • Olive oil:  2-3 T when I’m making a salad

Also good on…

  • Grilled chicken
  • Grilled seafood
  • Carne asada
  • Mixed Green salad
  • Crostini

Definitely NOT Cowboy Caviar.  But I’ll bet it would make Clint’s day.

This is definitely a healthy recipe considering it’s full of vegetables and beans and lacks added fat from salad dressings.