This time last year, I was asking people for black-eyed pea recipe ideas. Most shared with me dishes that involved lots of pork and peas, a common combination as the two pair together so well. One, however, suggested to me a soup that was made from broth, Cheddar, and black-eyed peas. Curious, I gave it a spin.
The soup was fine, as you can never go wrong with creamy melted cheese. But as I was dipping my spoon into the bowl I thought how much better the soup would be if it was thickened and enhanced with chiles, tomatoes, and cilantro. A splash of lime juice would go nicely, as well. And while you’re making the cheesy foundation thick and giving it and the peas a Tex-Mex spin, you might as well ditch the spoon and bring on the tortilla chips.
Clearly, I had a craving for Texas caviar chile con queso instead.
Now, in the past I’ve presented a New Year’s Day skillet queso that’s made with cream cheese, black-eyed peas, collard greens, and chorizo. It’s a fine dish and has been in constant rotation on many New Year’s days since. Though when I was writing my book on queso, I gained a newfound appreciation for processed cheese.
While I had never completely shunned queso made with such, in my early days in New York it had been so darn impossible to find Velveeta that I’d taken to making queso with non-processed cheeses, and the habit stuck. That said, quality American cheese has always been widely available. And when I did crave that creaminess and tang one gets from processed cheese, I started making queso with it instead.
Now, when using American cheese for queso, as opposed to brick processed cheese such as Velveeta, you do need to add some starch and liquid to keep the queso from separating, which you don’t need with brick processed cheese as it’s already chock full of stabilizers. Though making it is not a challenge and American cheese makes for a very fine dip that will remind you of home.
So, taking the soup as inspiration, I grabbed ingredients to make Texas caviar, which is essentially black-eyed peas tossed with pico de gallo. I then whipped together a queso base from American cheese, aromatics, and jalapeños. To serve, I topped the queso with the Texas caviar, brought on the crisp, salty chips, and enjoyed Tex-Mex snacking perfection.
This Texas caviar queso is a fine dish to serve on New Year’s Day, though I’m certain it will be making appearances throughout the year. too. A wonderful prediction for the New Year and may you and your loved ones have a very Happy New Year, too!
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Texas caviar chile con queso
For the Texas caviar:
- 1 1/2 cups cooked black-eyed peasdrained or 1 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, diced
- 2 jalapeños, seeded, stemmed, and diced
- 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons diced red onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
For the queso:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons diced red onion
- 2 jalapeños, seeded and finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 pound (8 ounces) yellow American cheese, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Tortilla chips for serving
To make the Texas caviar, stir together the black-eyed peas, tomatoes, jalapeños, red bell pepper, red onion, garlic, cilantro, salt, black pepper, cumin, olive oil, and lime juice until well combined. Taste and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate until ready to use. (This can be made a day ahead.)
To make the queso, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion and jalapeños and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more.
Whisk together the cornstarch, half and half, and water until well combined, then pour into the pot. Turn the heat up a smudge to medium and while constantly stirring, bring to a simmer (don't let it come to a raging boil!) and cook until the mixture begins to thicken, which should happen in a couple of minutes.
Turn the heat down to low and add the cheese, a handful at a time, and stir until each handful of cheese has melted and the queso is smooth. Repeat until all the cheese has been added.
Stir in the cumin, cayenne, and salt, then taste and adjust the seasonings.
Transfer the queso to a serving bowl, a small slow cooker, or a chafing dish over a flame. Top the queso with the Texas caviar (or add half and leave the other half in a bowl on the side) and serve with chips.
For the American cheese, I prefer to get mine from the deli counter at the grocery store so you don't have to unwrap each individual slice. Kraft Deli Deluxe in the cheese aisle is a good option, too, as it also comes unwrapped.