No sooner did Dispatch columnist Amelia Plair share a recipe last Wednesday for Tennessee Caviar than I came across Linda Bobbitt of Columbus making her signature Mississippi Caviar for a Saturday reception at the Rosenzweig Arts Center.
First, let’s be clear: This dish is as far removed from pickled roe of sturgeon, or any other fish, as blizzards are from Biloxi. No, these versions of down-home “caviar” (with names including Southern Caviar, Texas Caviar, Cowboy Caviar … ) are made with good-luck black-eyed peas and other jolts of flavor ranging from onions, Tabasco or peppers to garlic and cilantro, depending on the rendition.
“The recipe I use is called Mildred Reynolds’ Mississippi Caviar, from Southern Living’s 1976 ‘The Southern Hospitality Cookbook,’ by Winifred Green Cheney,” explained Bobbitt. The cookbook was given by her mother when Bobbitt was a young woman, married to husband Wayne. They met on a blind date to the Columbus Christmas Parade in 1965.
“And three months later, we were married,” Bobbitt said. Her husband passed away in 2003, but except for a few months living in Fairhope, Alabama, Columbus has been home. Bobbitt works with Edward Jones Investments at its Amory office and is active in the Columbus community.
“The Mississippi caviar was a favorite of Wayne’s. We both loved it. It’s really easy, and often if I’m taking something to a party, especially around New Year’s, I like to make it. It’s a really good savory to serve if somebody is having drinks.”
A caveat: For maximum marriage of flavors, Reynolds’ recipe calls for the caviar to sit in the fridge for three days in a sealed glass jar.
Where the recipe calls for wine or rice vinegar, Bobbitt leans toward the rice, although she has used both.
“It also calls for minced garlic, but down in the recipe, you’ll see that you’re supposed to remove the garlic after the first day,” she said. “To do that and not spend hours picking the garlic out, it’s best to cut the clove of garlic in 10 pieces, which is enough to mix it in and give it the flavor, but makes it easy to pull it back out again; you know you’re looking for 10 pieces.”
Bobbitt serves the caviar with an assortment of snack crackers.
“I will even fix myself a little bowl of it; it’s really good as a side dish. It’s also real good, just like with most peas, with a little chow-chow on top of it.”
Evolutions of this dish are plentiful, as any quick internet search proves.
“Corn kernels, green bell pepper, diced tomatoes, roasted bell pepper, different types of beans and fresh herbs can all be added with abandon,” reads mincedblog.com. “No matter how you make it, be sure to let it sit as the flavors meld together with time.”
Choose a recipe and serve it as a snack with crackers or tortilla chips, toss it on crisp Romaine lettuce for a filling salad, top grilled chicken for an entree, or layer it with roasted shrimp in a soft tortilla for a quick lunch or dinner, the site advises. This is one “caviar” that is endlessly adaptable.
MILDRED REYNOLDS’ MISSISSIPPI CAVIAR
Makes about 6 cups
1 (15 1/4-ounce) can cooked black-eyed peas
1 cup salad oil
1/2 cup wine or rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup thinly-sliced onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 or 5 dashes Tabasco
(Source: Southern Living’s “The Southern Hospitality Cookbook”)
Makes about 4 cups
2 (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 large banana pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 large jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
1 cup finely chopped red onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
VEGAN/GLUTEN-FREE MISSISSIPPI CAVIAR
1 15-ounce can black-eyed peas, rinsed, drained
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained
1 15-ounce can corn, drained
2 small plum tomatoes, diced
1 medium bell pepper (green, red, orange, or yellow), diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small jalepeno pepper, finely diced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 small onion, diced
1 lemon, juiced and zested
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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