Cooking With Om Makes Vegan Food Bloom With Ayurveda

Om Rishikesh is a chef with a lot on his plate. Whether at catered events, farmers markets, workshops, or in-home lessons, Cooking With Om is a discovery of vegan food that tastes as good as it looks. With a creative blend of textures, spices, and Ayurvedic wellness principles, Om aims to make healthful vegan dishes both flavorful and satisfying.     

Some of Om’s plant-based creations include watermelon poke, carrot hot dogs, rice paper bacon, and sweet potato smoothies. “For me as a chef, I am not afraid of experimenting,” he said, “but I’m also very confident about how my food tastes.”

Chef Om Rishikesh
photo: Chef Om Rishikesh

You can get a taste of Cooking With Om at the Marina Del Rey Farmers Market or Yamashiro Night Market in Hollywood, where he offers watermelon poke with black forbidden rice, jackfruit tacos or nachos, and jalapeno poppers with cashew ricotta.

To make his plant-based poke, Om marinates fresh watermelon in spices and almond butter overnight, then grills it the next day until it attains a texture similar to raw fish. Likewise, the texture of unripe jackfruit mimics that of shredded meat for the tacos and nachos. The jackfruit is cooked with a mix of detoxifying spices, topped with a vegan cheese sauce made with cashews and turmeric, then garnished with cilantro, radishes, and pickled cabbage.

“When I cook, my idea is not only for people to have good food,” Om said, “but also to experience or, even if they don’t know about it, to have the detoxing effects of different spices and herbs.”

watermelon poke
photo: Foodzooka (watermelon poke)

One of the core dishes taught in lessons from Cooking With Om is known as kitchari, a classic Indian combination of basmati rice and mung beans. It’s a traditional, nourishing dish in Ayurvedic cuisine that delivers proteins and other essential nutrients. Om adds vegetables and dashes of cumin, coriander, turmeric, and fennel, which are regarded in Ayurveda to reduce inflammation, aid in digestion, or help cleanse the body.

“Those are the main four spices I’m trying to teach people how to use,” said Om. “And kitchari is the easiest way to incorporate all of those spices.”  

kitchari with brussel sprouts
photo: Om Rishikesh (kitchari with brussel sprouts)

Another high-protein dish Om makes is almond beet hummus. Om doesn’t use chickpeas because they are often hard to digest. By soaking almonds overnight, they become soft enough to replicate the texture of chickpeas, minus the gassy side effects. Om blends them with beets, tahini, olive oil, and salt. The result is a vibrant reddish-purple mash that pairs well with many entrees and looks good on your plate without hurting your tummy.

“Anything that gives you indigestion or unease in your body is something that your body is reacting to,” Om said. “Food should make us feel good; it should never make us feel sick.”

Om Rishikesh (almond Beet hummus) - Foodzooka
photo: Om Rishikesh (almond Beet hummus)

While Om had been vegetarian for over 15 years, he noticed that he still suffered from skin rashes. After consulting with Ayurvedic experts, he stopped eating the nightshade class of plants that are known to cause inflammation, including common potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants. It’s been a year since he also gave up his love for cheese and transitioned to a fully vegan diet that does not include soy.

“It doesn’t mean at all that when you are a vegan that you are healthy, or that vegan food is healthy,” said Om, adding that vegans should continue to scrutinize their food choices beyond avoiding meat and dairy.

Some dishes he makes to please vegans who may miss meat dishes, or to satisfy meat eaters with healthier substitutes. The carrot hot dogs are spiced roasted carrots sandwiched in hot dog buns with homemade condiments. Rice paper bacon is a smoky, salty, and crispy way to deliver the highly craved taste and texture of bacon.

Om Rishikesh (carrot hot dogs) - Foodzooka
photo: Om Rishikesh (carrot hot dogs)

Om often gets requests to teach families how to cook so they can explore healthy foods that both adults and children will enjoy making and eating. From Om’s repertoire, vegan macaroni and cheese is an obvious crowd pleaser. Kids also like the creamy soups he makes with asparagus, beets or sweet potatoes. But the big winner may be the baked taro fries with cilantro chutney.

“They are the best fries in the world. The kids go crazy for them,” he said. At the grocery store, taro looks a hairy potato patterned with rings around the skin, but it has an earthy sweetness and is richer in fiber than regular potatoes. Om bakes the sliced taro with turmeric and other spices, while the accompanying cilantro sauce adds anti-inflammatory benefits and helps remove heavy metals from the blood in Ayurvedic practice.

On the sweeter side, Cooking With Om demonstrates easy recipes for sweet potato smoothies and desserts, such as chocolate mousse or key lime pie made from chilled avocado, and jello made with agar rather than gelatin.

Om Rishikesh (key lime pie with avocado) - Foodzooka
photo: Om Rishikesh (key lime pie with avocado)

Om’s food has been ideal for diabetics looking for comforting, nutritious dishes that won’t spike their blood sugar. It’s also effective for some looking to lose weight. Om’s non-vegan husband Dustin lost 60 pounds after eating Ayurvedically prepared food for six months. “He’s probably my best case study,” Om said.

Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine first practiced in India that incorporates food as a way of healing the body with a goal of achieving balance. This objective is seen in Ayurvedic cuisine as a balance of six flavors: sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent. While it’s not always feasible to consume every flavor in one bite, Om looks to work them all in with a range of dishes and ingredients.  

“I recommend variety—a variety of foods. I practice Ayurvedic cooking but I’m trying to push the boundaries of making any kind of food into Ayurvedic food.”

Color is another factor Om takes into account, as seen in pictures of his stuffed orange butternut squash drizzled with green cilantro chutney and adorned with yellow, red, and blue flowers. This kind of photoworthy riot of colors is what Om sees as an indicator of balance.

Om Rishikesh (butternut squash drizzled with cilantro chutney and flowers) - Foodzooka
photo: Om Rishikesh (butternut squash drizzled with cilantro chutney and flowers)

“When you eat a meal that is balanced with colors, you’re going to get all your nutrients and your mind is going to be satisfied,” he said, pointing out that visually attractive fruits and vegetables with dark red, blue, or purple colors also contain healthy antioxidants.

To include this requisite amount of color, Om is constantly on the hunt for edible flowers. Aside from adding visual appeal to his dishes, some flowers such as nasturtiums taste spicy and help rid the body of toxins. Om grows nasturtiums and hot lips sage flowers in his apartment and sources some edible blossoms from the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market, though they’re a hot commodity among chefs and tend to sell out fast.

As a chef who moved from New York to Los Angeles nearly two years ago, Om was impressed by the magnitude of vegan foods and ingredients that California has to offer. “New York is a progressive vegetarian/vegan city, but what I am seeing here in LA is incredible,” he explained. “Even in New York, I didn’t have access to all the vegan things that I can get here now. There’s so much creativity and so much beauty in it.”

Om Rishikesh (rainbow salad with wild rice, beets, arugula, nasturtiums, borage flowers, and lime) - Foodzooka
photo: Om Rishikesh (rainbow salad with wild rice, beets, arugula, nasturtiums, borage flowers, and lime)

Om’s own path to culinary creativity began in his teens when his family moved to the US from Colombia. After graduating high school, Om began a journey toward spiritual nourishment by becoming a monk in a Hare Krishna temple. “The Hare Krishnas are vegetarian and are known as the kitchen religion. Every time you go to the temple, they feed you,” he explained.

His passion for cooking was sparked when he started teaching vegetarian cooking classes with fellow monks at New York University and Columbia University as part of their service to the community. After Om left the monastery, he studied at New York’s Bhagavat Life, an Ayurvedic catering and culinary school.

“That’s where my Ayurvedic training started.” Om said. “And then the rest has just been me working in restaurants and developing my own passion for clean vegetarian and vegan eating and cooking.”

Foodzooka (jalapeno poppers with cashew ricotta and coconut bacon)
photo: Foodzooka (jalapeno poppers with cashew ricotta and coconut bacon)

Now with his own business, Cooking With Om offers prepared and delivered meal plans, catering, and private cooking lessons. Om can create a menu based on your dietary needs, or you can simply pick interesting items from his Instagram feed. His in-home lessons are two-hour sessions that will teach you how to make five select dishes with your own kitchen equipment.

To learn more about Om’s services or to schedule a lesson, meal delivery, or catering, check out his website. Also look for Om at the Marina Del Rey Farmers Market on Saturdays and the Yamashiro Night Market in Hollywood on Thursday nights.

Cooking with OM - Foodzooka
photo: Foodzooka