Cooking Toward Community

I have never considered myself a cook. I came to the kitchen through cookies and pies, measuring cups and pastry wheels. I am a baker. Baking is straight forward. It’s scientific. There are inputs and outputs and specific results I can depend on.

But cooking? Cooking is a different beast. Cooking is wild and unpredictable. It’s messy and loud and even uncomfortable at times. Anyone who has found themselves stuffing butter under the skin of a raw chicken can attest to that.

It takes courage to get that close to our food. We like our food to be conveniently packaged in boxes or uniform shrink wrapped containers. It’s nice to think that food comes from grocery stores, or from a magical land called Kraft.

But cooking has forced me to confront all the realities that bring food to my fridge and my table. It’s through cooking that I’ve learned to appreciate the farmer and the butcher, the human hands that grow, tend, and harvest our food. There is life and death, blood and sweat and care behind each meal on our tables.

Cooking has also helped me see creation in an entirely new way. It’s illuminated the extravagance and beauty of the earth: a creation that is good and colorful and full of more variety than we could ever possibly experience in this lifetime. On this great orb of land and sea, we have been given everything we need, not only for our nourishment, but also for our enjoyment.

Cooking has also led me to community. It is through cooking that I’ve learned how to share my life with others, which is perhaps the bravest act of all. It can be scary enough just to pick up a knife and turn on the skillet. But to let others into our mess? To fling open our doors and welcome others at our table? This takes an entirely different kind of courage.

I have dreams of what this community should look like. It is all candle sticks and tinkling glasses and fancy napkin rings. It is a clean house, and picture perfect food, and effortless conversation.

But cooking reminds us that food is messy. It’s imperfect. It’s always in process—a little more salt, a squeeze of lemon. How about a dash of wine?

Like community, cooking has it’s own timetable, and more often than not, it doesn’t look like the pictures. More often, it looks like shoving junk mail to the side to make room for paper plates and sippy cups and pizzas that got just a bit burnt around the edges. It looks like laughter and babies’ cries, celebrations mingled with grief, late night debates and awkward silences.

And you know what? That’s okay. Cooking reminds us that food is about more than taste or appearance or enjoyment. It’s about the process it takes to get there. It’s about nourishing ourselves and our loved ones. It’s about giving what we have—whether it’s abundant or slim: a perfectly orchestrated symphony of flavors or a humble fried egg. It’s about finding ways to gather, to dig into each other’s lives, to share our best and our worst with people who care.

And at the end of the day, in the midst of dirty dishes and the lingering smell of pot roast, we meet Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides. We see grace in action in the chopping of a carrot. We experience it in the passing of plates and scooping of casseroles. We are reminded of it in conversations that flow around our kitchen tables.

In the food we prepare, and eat, and share, we are confronted with the God of abundance. A God who is creative and wild, untamed by human hands, yet at the same time intimate and close, choosing to make Himself known in the simplest things—in bread, in wine.

This is the great joy of cooking—at once it is mundane and extraordinary, profane and sacred. It’s an adventure in faith, in generosity, in hospitality.

I’d invite you to take a deep breath, grab a spatula, and muster a little courage. This Mexican Lasagna is one of my favorite dishes, and it’s a great place for beginners to start. To me, it represents the best that cooking has to offer. It’s a simple dish that requires few ingredients, but every flavor really shines. It’s budget friendly and satisfying, and can easily feed a crowd. The recipe itself is vegetarian, but you can easily add rotisserie chicken or ground beef for meat eaters. So take a little risk, experiment, stir the pot. You never know what you might discover.

Easy Mexican Lasagna (Recipe adapted from A Couple Cooks)

  • 9 lasagna noodles
  • 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1½ cups frozen or fresh corn
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro, plus more for topping
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 8 oz. shredded Mexican blend cheese
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
  • Smoked Chipotle tabasco sauce (or regular hot sauce if you can’t find Chipotle)
  • Sour Cream (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. You’ll need a casserole dish that’s somewhere between 9 x 9 and 9 x 13. I used a rounded dish that was probably around 7 x 11. You can use whatever size dish, just cut your noodles to fit.
  3. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking.
  4. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine black beans, corn, green onions, cilantro, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, and salt.
  5. Layer a small amount of tomatoes on the bottom of your baking dish (about a ¼ of the can). Top with noodles. Layer a ⅓ of the bean mixture on top of that. Spread another ¼ of the tomatoes on top, sprinkle with hot sauce, then spread with ⅓ of the cheese. Repeat 2 more times following the same pattern (noodles, bean mixture, tomatoes, hot sauce, cheese).
  6. Cover with foil. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake for 5 minutes more or until cheese is nice and melted. Allow to set up for 10 minutes before serving.
  7. To serve, sprinkle with cilantro and a dollop of sour cream, if desired.