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Here’s what early Christian families ate for dinner


Digital image courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program

Cerith Gardiner - published on 07/12/20

Make your Sunday meal special with this recipe used by early Christians!

Have you ever wondered what early Christians served for their traditional Sabbath meal? While households today might be using recipes from the late formidable Julia Child or the kind-hearted Massimo Bottura, two thousand years ago families would have looked to Apicius — a cooking bible popular in the 1st century A.D.

The Latin used in the text was vulgar — not in the way we understand the term today, but in the sense that it was the language of the comon people, like those who cooked in the kitchens. A scribe wrote the recipes down in a way that could be readily understood and available for many Roman kitchens to use.


Read more:
12 Foods and drinks and their patron saints

With exotic herbs and spices available thanks to new trading routes opening up in the East, other more familiar food products we have today were still far from the Roman family table. Thankfully, historians have been able to unravel what they believe many early Christian households would have eaten. So tempt your tastebuds with this recipe put together by the Getty Museum’s blog, The Iris, after some research using the ancient Apicius and you’ll be taken on a journey back in time.

Lentil Stew

Lentils are a staple in the pantries of most households today. This ancient ancient legume makes several appearances in the Bible, most notably as the savory dish for which Esau traded his birthright to Jacob. This recipe is not only easy to do, it’s also very nutritious. All you need to do is pop some olive oil in a pan with some chopped vegetables — celery, onions, carrots and a little chard for a real Roman touch — and mix in the lentils and some broth.


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup red lentils (if you use green or brown lentils you’ll have to adapt cooking times)

½ cup carrots, diced

¼ cup onion, finely chopped

¼ cup celery, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

½ teaspoon salt

3 cups vegetable broth

1 bay leaf

¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped, for garnish


  1. Heat olive oil in saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add chopped vegetables, crushed garlic, and salt; lower heat and cover.
  3. Sauté vegetables about 5 minutes, until they appear softened.
  4. Sort and rinse lentils in sieve before cooking, then stir in with softened vegetables.
  5. Add broth and bay leaf; bring to a boil, then cover, lower heat and simmer until cooked.
  6. Depending on size and variety of lentils, this can take from 10 to 30 minutes.

Serves 4

If you’d like further inspiration, then take a look at the other recipes featured by The Iris – Behind the scenes at the Getty.

Make sure to visit the slideshow below to discover seven healthy foods Jesus himself ate. 

Catholic historyFood
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