Almost a year ago God had me in Ecuador with Compassion International. We were in a gorgeous town, marked with green hills and a sky that was commanded by clouds. Clouds crowding over each other, clouds coming to touch the land we walked. It was also studded with families who farmed, struggling to make it day by day.
In fact, what they farmed is what they ate. And most nights that meant nothing or very little.
The team I was with visited one family, a single mom, Maria, and her three children. They farmed onions. Onions because that is all their dry soil could produce. So on nights when there were onions for them to eat, onions it was. Onions in milk. Onions boiled. Always onions.
Maria showed us the farm and then we settled on the dirt patch outside their little home. We had brought food for lunch. Chicken. Corn. Potatoes. Avocado. It was going to be a feast. In fact, I suspected Maria would have enough to feed her littles again for dinner.
The pastor explained to her that we were going to the car to bring the bounty and then we would all sit down and eat together. It wasn’t but a few minutes when we returned with food and it seemed the whole village was on that little dirt patch.
Our team looked at each other in shock. At first excited to bring more than enough to this family we were now wondering if we could feed everyone that crowded around. We quickly regrouped. We decided to open all the boxes and cut the chicken into smaller pieces. Cut the potatoes into smaller chunks. Everything smaller. Even the corn was getting shucked off the cob to feed everyone.
Confused at how this tiny village knew we were bringing food the pastor went and spoke with Maria, who struggled daily to feed her family. How did the neighbors know we were here? With unrivaled certainty she explained, “When you told me you were bringing food for my family I had the children go and bring the neighbors.”
My team and I could hardly hold back swollen tears as we served each person that moved through our line. Of course. Of course you go and get the neighbors. Even if you’re hungry. Because most likely, they’re hungry too. Even if you are a single mom struggling because most likely, these families are struggling too.
You get the neighbors. You don’t wonder if they are hungry. Or if their days are hard and toil filled. You just go get them.
It was a beautiful, sharp message and I couldn’t believe God allowed me to witness it all. Here we were coming to show compassion, to show mercy, and she turned around and showed mercy to her neighbors too.
We can look around and pick someone, anyone, on our path and be a neighbor to him or her, just by showing mercy.
This truth is changing my life. It’s changing the way I pursue people. The way I see them. The way I understand their need. That mother in Ecuador, her mercy penetrated my heart and eternity.
As everyone finished up eating my team looked down and saw that we were not only able to feed all the neighbors, there were leftovers. Of course there were leftovers – because Jesus.
We joyfully boxed up the food to give to Maria, happy to know she would be able to feed her children that evening. And, I assume, she gathered the neighbors again.
In celebration of this beautiful Maria and her family I made one of my favorite dishes with onions. French Onion Chicken. It is everything hearty and warm. You’ll want to go get the neighbors.
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 pounds onions, sliced into thin half-moons
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- 4 small sprigs thyme, leaves only
- 4-inch sprig rosemary
- 2 cups chicken broth, divided
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 4 chicken breasts (you can also use thighs)
- 2 ounces (or 1 cup) grated Gruyère cheese
- Melt the butter in a deep 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted completely and foams up, add the onions. Stir the onions to coat them in the butter. Sprinkle lightly with salt and black pepper. Cook the onions for about 25-30 minutes over low or medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- When the onions have developed an evenly light beige color throughout, add the garlic, thyme leaves, and whole rosemary sprig, and cook for a few minutes more, stirring frequently. Turn the heat up to high and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring frequently. You want dark, slightly burnt spots to appear on the onions, and for them to develop a rich mahogany color.
- When the onions get quite dark, add ¼ cup of the white wine. Deglaze the pan by scrapping up the brown bits vigorously as you pour in the wine. Then add 1 cup of the beef or chicken broth. As you add it, scrape up any burnt or stuck-on bits from the pan.
- When the liquid has been added, bring it back up to a simmer and simmer lightly for 5 minutes, or until it is somewhat reduced.
- Take the onions off the heat and pour them into a 3-quart oven-safe dish with a lid. (If you don't have a Dutch oven or another oven-safe dish with a lid, you can use a 9x13-inch baking dish. Just cover it tightly with a double layer of foil.)
- Heat the oven to 325°F.
- While the onions are cooking, brown the chicken. Heat another 10-inch or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken dry and season lightly with kosher salt and black pepper. When the skillet is hot, add the chicken and brown for about 3 minutes on each side, 6 minutes total. When they've developed a golden-brown crust, remove from the pan and set on top of the caramelized onions in the baking dish.
- Add the remaining 1 cup broth to the pan. Stir vigorously, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Whisk in the balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until reduced by half. Pour this sauce over the chicken and onions, and put the lid on the baking dish.
- (At this point you can refrigerate the dish for up to 48 hours. Let it sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before baking, or else add about 5 minutes to the bake time.)
- Bake at 325°F for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and turn the heat up to broil. Take the lid off the baking dish, and sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top of the chicken. When the broiler has heated up, return the dish to the oven and broil for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and golden on top.