Game Day Appetizer
By Dennis Linden
Just in time for the myriad of college football bowl games that are about to monopolize TV broadcast schedules for most of this month, comes a very easy to make and scrumptiously delicious chip dip from the desk of Mark Smith, a member of Melissa’s team of national representatives located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Using Melissa’s convenient STEAMED BLACKEYED PEAS as the main ingredient, Mark makes a very tasty tortilla dip he calls TEXAS CAVIAR that is guaranteed to turn the head of even the most avid football fan from screen to chip bowl in just one bite, no matter the score!
In fact, it should be noted that Mark’s recipe has been game-tested by this writer during one of my typical Sunday couch viewing sessions of several professional football contests--all of them, in fact. Thanks to satellite service, this is always a seven-hour marathon without commercial interruption that requires being supported by good food that takes minimal time away from the screen to prepare! Since Mark’s Texas Caviar can be prepared ahead of time and even improves in flavor when the ingredients are left to marinate overnight together, this dish turned out to be the perfect game time fare. Actually, Mark’s Caviar is so hearty that it barely qualifies as a dip. It’s more accurate to say that this is a side dish best eaten with chips rather than a fork! As a chip dip it satisfied my hunger though an entire afternoon of games; for the Sunday Night game, I simply added some shredded chicken to what was left in the bowl, plus a little spicier hot sauce and wrapped it all up in a warm tortilla for a quickie, no fuss, half-time meal. Very versatile, indeed!
“This recipe is one of the most requested at my family’s gatherings; it has always been a special a favorite of all of our nieces and nephews,” explained Mark, adding, “It’s also our go-to dish to contribute at potluck parties because, with minor ingredient modifications, it can be kept fresh and seasonally interesting every serving!”
What makes this dish so easy to put together is Melissa’s ready-to-eat Steamed Blackeyed Peas, which serve as the foundation for Mark’s recipe. With the hours of soaking or cooking required of raw peas already done, this flavorful ingredient just needs a quick rinse before being combined with the rest of Mark’s tasty ingredients right out of its package! BTW, while that cast of supporting flavors consists of just a few basic veggies – tomatoes, celery, red onion and jalapeño pepper— which do play off the texture and taste of the blackeyed peas perfectly, Mark suggests that there can also be a lot of room for personal taste preferences and creativity in ingredient choices.
“We like to mix the leftovers into a green salad or add in some eggs for a delicious breakfast dish,” said Mark, continuing, “or try a little chipotle hot sauce for a hint of smokiness; for those with a more adventurous palate, replace the jalapeño with a super-hot chile variety! Fresh roasted corn can also be a great addition to this mixture as well as roasted Hatch chiles.”
Mark Smith, a 17-year veteran with Melissa’s, works directly with the company’s retail clients throughout the eastern U.S. from his centrally located office in eastern Pennsylvania. Mark’s role as the conduit between our customers in the East and our procurement and sales teams in California is a vital link in Melissa’s distribution system.
“As a field rep operating far from our corporate facilities in Los Angeles, I keep in daily contact with our customers throughout this region in an effort to help them meet their sales goals in the various product categories that Melissa’s offers,” explained Mark. “With the amazing support of our team in the California office and, of course, our grower partners who provide us with consistently high quality fresh produce, I am able to supply our eastern accounts with insights on current trends in food and give them a heads-up on new items, as well as seasonal product opportunities that arise due to weather conditions and/or harvest circumstances. We work in a fast paced, dynamic industry that demands the sharing of information, insights and ideas quickly and effectively, so it’s very rewarding professionally to be a part of an amazing team that makes my job easier because everyone understands that our success comes only with the successes of our customers.”
When his work day is finished, Mark enjoys playing golf, puttering around the house with his never-ending Honey Do List (his words!) and spending quality time with wife Denise and son Ryan. Also, just in case they read this, Mark asked that chocolate lab Quincy and Rylee (a Puggle) get a special shout out as being a big part of the family! With daughter Rachel across the state attending the University of Pittsburgh, Mark says it gives them a great excuse to make occasional visits and enjoy one of their favorite pursuits together -- discovering new dining experiences amongst Pittsburgh’s diverse restaurant scene.
And if you need a little extra incentive to try Mark’s recipe besides a football game, it’s been a Southern tradition, going back before the Civil War, that eating Blackeyed Peas on New Year’s Day will bring good luck for the whole year! Now that may or may not be a myth, but why not use Mark’s recipe to cover your good luck bases just in case? So on January 1st, start with a generous serving of Texas Caviar, then add a bowl of chips, a favorite brew and a New Year’s Day game to kick off the year at least deliciously – which should count as being pretty lucky in itself! Enjoy!
2 Packages Melissa’s Steamed Blackeyed Peas
16 ounces Red Ripe Tomatoes (Mini Marzano or Heirloom Tomatoes work well too)
2 Celery stalks, finely chopped
½ cup Red Onion, minced
2 (small) Jalapeño Peppers, seeded & minced
2 Tablespoons Fresh Cilantro, minced
3 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
4 teaspoons Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Ground Cumin
Salt, to taste
Tabasco Sauce or your favorite Hot Sauce (optional)
Rinse blackeyed peas and drain to remove excess water.
Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise, then squeeze or scrap gently to extract seeds and core pith and finely chop.
Prepare celery, red onion, jalapeño and cilantro.
Combine all the veggies with the blackeyed peas and tomatoes in a mixing bowl, then add vinegar, oil and cumin and stir gently to mix. Season with salt and Tabasco to taste. Serve with tortilla chips.