Meatless Monday: A vegan dinner party
Chickpea patties, lemon rice, and green bean mallum make a balanced and tasty meal.
Smack in the middle of Christmas week last year, a time filled with ham, turkey, lamb and chicken, I hosted my first vegan dinner!Skip to next paragraph
Tastes Like Home
Cynthia Nelson was born and raised in the only English-speaking country in South America – Guyana. She has been a media professional for over 18 years. Cynthia is based in Barbados and teaches Mass Communication. Her photography and musings on food and life appear regularly in publications in the Caribbean and North America. She is the author of the memoir-cookbook: Tastes Like Home: My Caribbean Cookbook and the award-winning blog, Tastes Like Home.
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When my friend, Taymer told me that she and her husband Laurent, both vegans, were coming to Barbados for the holidays, I did not hesitate in extending an invitation for a meal. Her response to my invitation floored me. She said that because they were vegans they were rarely invited out to dinner. This made me more determined to ensure that they’d have a meal to remember. Vegans do not eat meat or any animal products, which include things like butter, milk and cheese. When they do consume these products, they are always plant-based. Vegans eat only plant foods – vegetables, legumes (beans and peas), grains, fruits, nuts and seeds.
Once I had extended the invitation, I spent time thinking about the menu. I wanted to ensure that there was balance to the meal and that it contained all of the food groups we expect with each meal – a starch, protein and vegetable. I went a little further and thought of the flavours and textures I’d like the meal to have. And so I decided to make chickpea patties (for protein), lemon rice (for starch) and green bean mallum (for vegetables). Mallum is a type of salad dish well known in Sri Lanka. Vegetables are cut, mixed with coconut, onions and a little turmeric and cooked very quickly to ensure that most of the nutrients of the vegetable remain intact. I also made a quick pickle of some bell peppers.
My menu would also reveal the kind of flavour notes I was after – sweet from the mallum and bell peppers, sour and savoury from the lemon rice and salt from the chickpea patties.
The day of the dinner arrived and I set about making the meal.
Taymer and Laurent arrived and we sat down to eat. I was nervous. While I’ve entertained various types of vegetarians before, I prayed that the food, tastes and flavours were acceptable. Laurent ate and seemed to be enjoying it but my eyes were on Taymer, this was a foodie after all and no matter what the pattern of eating, foodies know food and are serious about it. I could see her tasting as she took each bite, I saw her spread the mallum, fork prongs playfully pushing the beans and coconut around … she kept remarking at the mallum, that it was the first time that she had eaten coconut in a savoury dish. It was new. And she liked it. The meal continued. I relaxed, and we ate and chatted. Later, over tea, she said they had been wowed. I was chuffed.
There are several things that dawned on me as I went through this entire process of hosting my first vegan gathering, and I’d like to share them with you.
It occurred on me that I already make a lot of vegan food. Perhaps, like me, many of you are not vegan per se but you eat meals that could easily appear on a vegan table without consciously knowing that you do. For example, all the sautéed vegetables, many salads, lentil and pea stews, pasta and rice dishes, lentil and bean patties and fritters can all be enjoyed by vegans! Even my non-dairy, bread pudding would be enjoyed by vegans and it tastes like Christmas cake with all the rum-soaked fruits in it! I am saying this to make the point that we don’t have to throw our hands in the air in frustration about not knowing what to make for our vegetarian or vegan family, friends and guests. Honestly, all that is needed is time to think and plan. This is key because meals for vegetarians and vegans should always be balanced to ensure that they are getting the right nutrients and enough of it.