First domesticated about 7,000 years ago in South America, the black bean didn't show up on many United States menus until it was pulverized.

Decades ago, the Coach House restaurant in Manhattan introduced a black bean soup flavored with ham hocks and Madeira wine, with the pureed beans contributing an earthy undertone. Praised by James Beard, copied across the nation, Coach House black bean soup gave the inky legume access to middle American tables.

Outside the United States, the cooks of numerous nations would be bereft without their beloved black beans. Brazil's national dish, a meaty stew called feijoada, can't be made without the beans. White rice with black beans is a staple across Central and South America, and is sometimes eaten for good luck on New Year's Day.

Black and white: In Spain and elsewhere, black beans combined with white rice is sometimes called "Moros y Cristianos," or Moors and Christians, a reference to battles between Muslims and Christians that ended in the 15th century.

Soak your bean: While canned black beans are convenient, legume fans say dried beans, soaked overnight and then simmered until tender, offer superior texture and flavor.

Here, the dusky, meaty beans are tossed with a smoky vinaigrette that heightens the legumes' earthiness. Here the crunch is supplied by sweet onion and red bell pepper, but celery, carrots or briefly blanched green beans would also serve well.



2 cans black beans

3 ears corn

1 sweet or red onion, diced small, or thinly sliced bunch of scallions

1 red bell pepper, diced small

1/2 pound feta, crumbled or sliced

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup cider vinegar or fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Steam corn in a pot or in microwave. Let cool and slice kernels from cobs.

In a colander, drain and rinse beans.

In a large bowl, whisk smoked paprika, garlic and cumin into vinegar or juice. Drizzle oil into mixture slowly, whisking, until it combines as vinaigrette.

Add other ingredients and toss to combine thoroughly. If possible, let rest for an hour before serving.