July 8, 2013

Lowly Lentils, Rich Hospitality

They were meatless before meatless was cool.

Close to fifteen years ago, this godly family of eight invited me to sit down in their tiny kitchen with a broken-dishwasher-turned-storage-unit, and we ate a bean casserole. Other times, we had lentils. Or chick peas. Or split peas. In an era of “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.” commercials, I never remember eating a single piece of meat in their home.

They weren’t vegetarian by conviction. As far as I know, they weren’t concerned about humane practices or cholesterol or growth hormones. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure they simply had no money.

But that didn’t occur to me at the time.

My weekly dinner date with this family arose out of two needs: they needed a babysitter during rehearsals for the local symphony; I needed fellowship. I was single, living hundreds of miles away from family and friends. Every dinner in my own kitchen was lonely—often take-out from a local deli eaten in haste and silence. As a single woman with a full-time job, I could afford expensive ingredients, restaurant meals, meat. But what I did not have was someone to share my table.

This family had plenty of dinnertime fellowship. Their six children were continually making noise: telling stories from their day, giggling, reciting memory verses, dropping their forks, spilling their drinks.  The parents broke in to ask questions, tease out a biblical application, mop up the milk. On that first night, the little ones all but licked the casserole dish clean, and I couldn’t get enough of their bubbling humanity.

So we reached an agreement. I would babysit once a week, free of charge, and they would invite me to eat dinner with them beforehand. I never missed the meat.

In ministry life—where hospitality costs are high and budgets are low—I have often remembered this family from my past. Honestly, their frugal bean inventions are faint in my mind. What I remember is the Christian fellowship. Pastor Albert Martin once said about hospitality: “It’s not the table; it’s the open door.” I have been blessed to walk through such an open door.

Christ calls himself the door (John 10:7-9,) and says the one who enters finds salvation. He calls himself the bread of life (John 6:35,) and says the one who eats will be more than satisfied. By opening the physical door of our home, we can offer guests a glimpse of the spiritual feast that Christ has spread for us.

The food on our table? Just crumbs by comparison.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a young woman just starting life as a pastor’s wife. She was trying to figure out how to practice hospitality with few financial resources. This recipe for lentil tacos is for her and for all who open the door without much on the table. 

Because they swell as they cook, a 99-cent bag of lentils can easily feed as many people as 4 or 5lbs. of ground beef, and, if you serve them with love and a little spiritual conversation, no one will ever miss the meat.

Lentil Taco “Meat”
(adapted from Cook Without a Book: Meatless Meals by Pam Anderson)

2 ¼ c. brown lentils (1 lb. bag)
2 T. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine
¼ c. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 can (14.5 ounces) petite-cut diced tomatoes, do not drain
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper

In a large, covered pot, bring 5 c. of water and lentils to boil. Reduce to a simmer over medium and cook until lentils are tender and the water is almost completely absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. While the lentils are cooking, heat oil in another large pot over medium. Add chopped onions and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the chili powder, cumin, and oregano and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the lentils, garlic powder, and tomatoes. Cook over medium-low for 5 minutes. Add the salt and pepper (to taste).

Serve over flour tortillas with your favorite taco toppings.
Makes enough for 36 tacos, and the leftovers freeze well.


  1. Thank you for the reminder that hospitality doesn't have to mean expensive, impressive meals. I will keep this lentil taco recipe in mind!

  2. What a great reminder! And strangely enough, we tried a similar lentil taco recipe this week! We added just a few too many green chilies though... Thanks again for this beautiful blog.


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