My first vegan dinner

Chickpea Patties (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

Smack in the middle of Christmas week, a time filled with ham, turkey, lamb and chicken, I hosted my first vegan dinner!

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.

Now before I go on, for full disclosure, I need to let you know that I had a houseguest. Remember my first taster and friend I used to talk about? Susan? Well she was visiting for the holidays. Of course that meant that she was automatically expected to be there for dinner but she had other plans…

The day of the dinner arrived and I set about making the meal. As I was bustling around in the kitchen, Susan (a confirmed carnivore), in another room, exclaimed more than once, how good everything smelt. She even teasingly asked me if I am sure that I am cooking vegan food! She added, “Maybe I made a mistake in going out tonight.” I promised her that I’d save a plate for her.

Green Bean Mallum (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

Taymer and Laurent arrived and we sat down to eat. I was nervous. While I’ve entertained various types of vegetarians before, I was a vegan virgin and 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.

Later, Susan returned from her evening out and ate some of the food. “Oh my gosh Cynthia, this is so good! And it’s vegan food?! I like it!” Such praise from a meat-loving person, what can I say?

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.

Chickpea Patties (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

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.

If you haven’t thought of a New Year’s resolution yet, here’s one – let’s stop giving people lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots as their meal just because they don’t eat meat or animal products. And if you’d like a challenge, let’s agree to keep a journal of all the food we cook this year whether we are entertaining or not, so that we can tally at the end of the year, how much of the food we already make and eat that are vegetarian and vegan. I’m serious about the journal so if you’re interested, drop me a line and let me know at: with the words, Vegetarian/Vegan Eating in the subject line. If we get at least 12 people (the more the merrier) signing up, I’ll create a blog where we can post weekly, the vegetarian and vegan things we make. Come on, it will be fun!


Chickpea Patties

Yield: 10


2 cups dried chickpeas soaked overnight
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup diced onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Minced hot pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander
1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin (jeera)
½ cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
¼ cup chickpea flour (substitute with split pea flour)


1 large pot with cover or pressure cooker
1 colander
1 shallow frying pan
1 large spoon
1 food processor
1 rubber spatula
1 large bowl
1 large plate or baking sheet
Paper towels
1 flat spatula


1.  Drain peas and add to pot with 5-6 cups fresh water, cover and bring to a boil. When the pot comes to a boil, add salt to taste, recover and cook until fork tender. If using a pressure cook, add peas and 5 cups water, cover (do not close) pressure cooker and let come to a boil. Add salt when the pot comes to a boil, close pressure cooker and let pressure for 10 – 12 minutes, time begins from the first whistle.

2.  Drain cooked peas well and set aside.

3.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in pan and sauté onions, garlic and pepper for 2 minutes. Add turmeric and spices, stir to incorporate and continue cooking for 1 – 2 minutes. Set aside.

4.  Add peas, cilantro and lime juice to food processor and pulse to mash peas. You want it to have a little texture; do not let it be smooth.

5. Transfer the pea-mixture to a bowl; add sautéed ingredients, freshly ground pepper, chick pea flour and mix. Taste for seasoning (salt) and adjust if necessary.

6.  Form into patties and place on plate lightly brushed with oil

7.  Add oil to pan for shallow frying. Heat on medium-high heat. Pan-fry (about 2 minutes per side, drain on paper towels and serve.

Green Bean Mallum

Yield: 5 cups


1 lb green beans cut into pieces, diagonally
1 cup freshly grated coconut
½ cup diced onion
Minced hot pepper to taste
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric


1 large saucepot with cover
1 large spoon


1.  Add all the ingredients to the pot and toss to mix.
2.  Cover pot and place on medium heat.
3.  Let cook for 10 minutes stirring at 3-minute intervals.
4.  Remove from heat and serve.


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