Texas caviar chile con queso
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!
Would you like more Homesick Texan? Well, I’ve started offering additional recipes for paid subscribers to help with the costs of running the site. While I’m not taking anything away, if you’d like to support Homesick Texan and have access to exclusive, never-seen-before subscriber-only posts, please consider becoming a member; annual subscriptions are as low as $25. Thank you for reading, your consideration, and your support!
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.
Since I am a displaced Texan also, but live in Tennessee now, where Velveeta is readily available ( and in my pantry right now), what changes to the queso would I make if I wanted to use my Velveeta? Thanks for all your wonderful recipes.
Billie–For the cheese, just melt the Velveeta and add some of the half and half to thin it. You won’t need to add starch.
Thank you. ?
Instead of cornstarch I would use
yellow corn masa flour for thickening. I use all of the time especially when I make my
King Ranch Chicken soup for the thickening.
Love your cookbook
Nona–Thank you for the suggestion!
An even easier, cheesier way to make cheese dip/sauce is to melt the cheese (nearly any meltable cheese, including usually oily cheddar) into evaporated milk. The magic there has something to do with the milk proteins stabilizing the sauce, yet it won’t water down the cheesy flavors, and you can use much less of it. A bit of starch still helps, but preshredded cheese already has starch added. It also makes the best stovetop mac and cheese ever, and is so easy, you’ll never buy the boxed stuff again.
I picked up the trick from Serious Eats, but I think I had heard of similar approaches since Modernist Cuisine let everybody in on the sodium citrate trick.
Cliff–That’s great that the evaporated milk method works well for you but I’ve tried it and I’m not a fan since I think the milk gives the queso a chalky texture and weird flavor. Though I am a fan of using sodium citrate, and cover it in my book.
Ahhh. Reminds me of an almost forgotten oldy passed from a friend in St. Louis: 1 jar of Old English cheese spread, small onion grated, can of black eyed peas (drained, if they have watery pot liquor), and a small can of green chilis undreained mixed together, melted in the microwave, served with tortilla chips.
Am thinking now about adding a can of black eyed peas and some grated onion to some Velveeta/Rotel queso left over from Christmas. Yep. That should work just fine.
Pete–A fine plan and your friend’s recipe sounds really good, too! I never see Old English cheese spread but Trader Joe’s has something they call Pub Cheese, which I think may be similar.
Forget which old time company produces it, but they have just two now, the Old English and a pineapple blend in small juice sized (maybe 4 oz?) jars. Most often it can be found among or very near the canned dips in the snack chip aisle. I remember my mother buying it for very special occasions back in the 50’s to spread on crackers, a la an appetizer, maybe with a sliver of pimento on top. (Seems like there were a LOT of strange things being served back then!)
Pete–I will look for it!
OK, I looked it up – made by Kraft and the jar is 5 oz.