Texas Pea Salad

Patrick Mooney
Texas pea salad

Sometimes called Texas caviar, Texas pea salad is a snappy black-eyed pea salad that is a welcome addition to any barbecue.

Black-eyed Peas

The "pea" part of the Texas pea salad is the black-eyed pea, a variant of the cowpea. Along with catjang, the yardlong bean, and the southern pea, the black-eyed pea is originally from Africa. Black-eyed peas are relatives of the mung bean, which was known to the Romans and Greeks.

Black-eyed peas like hot weather and dry soil, which makes it a very good legume to plant in hot, dry areas where other crops do poorly. They are known as a drought tolerant crop. As with other legumes, black-eyed peas add nitrogen to the soil. Nutritionally, black-eyed peas are a great source of calcium and vitamin A.

Prior to the American Civil War, black-eyed peas were considered only suitable to feed to animals. When General Sherman was burning his way to Atlanta, he had his troops destroy the crops that were considered human food, but they left the corn and black-eyed peas not thinking that anyone would want to eat them. After the Civil War, when food in the south was scarce, attitudes towards black-eyed peas changed and they became a staple of the southern diet. Not only are they used in Texas pea salad, but they are also found in such dishes as Hoppin' John, which is black-eyed peas, rice, and sometimes pork. Black-eyed peas are eaten on New Years day with collard greens for luck, a tradition that dates back to the post-Civil War days.

The flowers of the black-eyed pea plant are very good nectar producers and can be a considerable source of honey.

How to Cook Black-eyed Peas

In order to make Texas pea salad, you will need to have some black-eyed peas. Unless you live in an area where they are grown, you will probably have dried peas on hand rather than fresh. To prepare your dried black-eyed peas, start with a pound of dried peas. Place the peas in a bowl and cover with water, letting the peas soak overnight. Drain the peas and place them into a large pot and add enough water to cover the peas with two inches of water. Dice a small onion and add it to the water. If you like, you can add two tablespoons of bacon fat or some fatback to the water, but do not add salt. Bring the water to a simmer and continue simmering for 45 minutes. Once the peas are tender, drain them.

Texas Pea Salad

Texas pea salad is a refreshing side dish particularly in the summer. This salad is best served after it has been allowed to rest in the refrigerator for a few hours, making it a welcome addition to a warm weather picnic or barbecue.

In order to make Texas pea salad, you will need:

  • 4 cups cooked and drained black-eyed peas
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded, with the ribs removed, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and taste it for seasonings. You may want to add more vinegar if the salad does not seem moist enough. Let the salad rest in your refrigerator overnight if possible.

This salad is very popular in Texas, where it was invented, and I'm sure it will be a popular side dish wherever you bring it. Since it is a good make-ahead dish, it can save you time if you make it the night before your barbecue, leaving you more time to grill and entertain.

Texas Pea Salad