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Food stylist Ruchi Oswal creates mouthwatering vegetarian food dishes, such as Quinoa with Lentils and Vegetables, and posts about them on social media. Photo courtesy of Ruchi Oswal
Columns Jano's Garden

Jano’s Garden: Ruchi Oswal’s garden of Middle Eastern culinary delights

I met Ruchi Oswal when she visited my gardening class at the Pine Street Senior Garden in Carlsbad last summer.

A number of my students were from various countries in Southeast Asia, and not only did they love to garden, but loved to talk about how they were going to prepare the vegetables they were growing.

So, Ruchi who was born in India and cooks vegetarian cuisine in her home, joined into the recipe exchange.

In the past year, during the pandemic, Ruchi spent most of her time at home, and has created daily postings of her vegetarian dishes on her Facebook as well as Instagram @ruchioswal.

As a floral designer for over 15 years, Ruchi learned about color, texture and shape, which she now brings to her food work.

I asked her why she chose to create daily postings of her family’s dishes at this time.

“For the last year, my cooking has been a way to express myself and to feed my family nutritious and beautiful dishes,” Ruchi said. “Since I cannot entertain with my friends, I try to spread my Mid Eastern culinary ideas online. I want this to be a happy time, and sometimes desperate times produce joyful experiences we can share with the friends we cannot see.”

The ingredients in her daily postings include faro, quinoa, rice and a multitude of organic vegetables and sometimes, very unusual herbs and spices.

One of the two Middle Eastern spices she cannot do without is za’atar.

According to Bon Appetit Magazine, “Za’atar is so multifaceted and dynamic because it’s a blend of so many different flavors, textures, and fragrances. Even though it varies greatly depending on where you are in the Middle East (specific recipes are sometimes closely guarded secrets!), za’atar is generally a combination of dried oregano, thyme, and/or marjoram (woodsy and floral), with sumac (tangy and acidic) and toasted sesame seeds (nutty and rich).

And, as if that weren’t enough, za’atar sometimes contains salt, dried orange zest, dried dill, or the wild herb za’atar (also called hyssop, it grows throughout the Levant and is the mixture’s namesake).”

Other Middle Eastern spice mixes such as Dukkah, are available at North Park Market in Vista and Trader Joe’s. Visit Ruchi’s site for ever-changing recipes on Instagram @ruchioswal.

There is much to be said about learning from the pandemic, and as David Chang, the famous chef of Momofuko restaurants said, “The reason we as chefs cook is to feed people, not just to feed ourselves. If I was home alone I would just eat my noodle soup every day!”

Quinoa with Lentils and Vegetables

— From Ruchi Oswal

The vegetarian dish that is featured in the above photograph exemplifies Ruchi’s creative combination of visual presentation and healthy vegetarian cooking.

Red center

Mix cooked quinoa with sautéed beet greens, cooked lentils and crushed walnuts, lime juice, dukkah (nut and spice blend) and olive oil.

Outer green layer

Mix cooked quinoa with basil pesto, spirulina powder, sautéed spinach and edamame beans, fresh snap peas, salt and pepper.

Garnish

Garnishing is the place to be creative with avocado slices, toasted cashews, which add creaminess.

Ruchi also recommends adding ginger, garlic and turmeric to her recipes, and I recently found out how easy it is to grow the turmeric root at home.

How to grow turmeric

Tumeric is a plant that has a very long history dating back 4,000 years. Because of its yellow color it is often used to add color to beverages and grain dishes, and is thought to have anti-oxidant benefits.

Re-planting of turmeric can be done by planting rhizomes in a similar method as to planting potatoes.

Since it is a rhizome planted underground, the total time of the mature plant can be up to six months.  But similar to potatoes, the maturation period is worth the wait, since fresh turmeric sells for over five to ten dollars per pound.

If you start the rhizomes indoors, you will need 3-inch pots filled with good potting soil. Be certain that you purchase organic turmeric roots.

Cut the rhizomes into sections with two or three buds in each section. Lay the rhizomes flat and cover with more soil. Water well, and slip the pots into plastic bags.

Keep into a warm spot, such as sunny windowsill, until sprouts emerge. Once growing, continue to water until sprouts have reached 6-8 inches, and either transplant outside into a large 14-inch planter or move outdoors in a raised bed. Continue to water as needed and fertilize every two weeks.

After six months the leaves will begin to turn brown to indicate they are ready to harvest. Tip out the plants, and shake out soil to harvest your rhizomes and shake out remaining soil.

Cut stems as you would ginger root, wash and keep in refrigerator in airtight container. Research your favorite vegetarian cookbook or visit websites for the various ways to use turmeric in vegetarian cooking.

Bon appetit!

Jano Nightingale is a horticulturist who teaches gardening classes in North County and lives with her son in Vista. She can be reached at [email protected], and is available for group gardening classes.

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