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Padma Lakshmi’s Recipe for Happiness

The host of ‘Top Chef’ and new documentary series ‘Taste the Nation’ shares how to eat and feel better

Taste The Nation host Padma Lakshmi

Dominic Valente/Hulu

En español | Padma Lakshmi wraps up Season 17 of her hit show Top Chef (Bravo, June 18, 10 p.m. ET; streaming on Hulu + Live TV and fuboTV) and premieres her documentary series Taste the Nation With Padma Lakshmi (Hulu, June 18), in which she roams the United States to explore diverse cuisines: Iranian, Chinese, Mexican, German, Native American, African American and more. Here she shares her thoughts on the new show, turning 50 on September 1 and how you can eat well at home.

Following Anthony Bourdain

They will compare me with Tony because it’s a travel show with food. Tony was a wonderful man, a friend, but you’re not going to see me swashbuckling all over the world.

Turning 50

I’m OK with it. I accept my body. As I age I don’t think I should have the same body as I did at 20. It would be weird if I did. Now I love to work out — I box, jump rope, do the speed bag, Pilates, treadmill, elliptical and weights — not only to counterbalance all the eating but because it feels good. My body is much more in shape now as I approach 50 than I was approaching 30.

Don't just sit there — make soup

You can build a soup off of very little. Roast a chicken, save the back of the carcass, and throw whatever doesn't get eaten into a pot with a lot of water and onions and garlic, whatever you have in your crisper, and a couple of seeds and sprigs from your spice drawer — that can be the base of a soup. Use that with whatever you have on hand. Or to fortify butternut squash soup, use two cups of stock and a whole butternut squash and some bread — that's a meal for four if you stretch it.

Keep it simple

I've been doing very easy one-pot dishes. On my Instagram you'll see a couple of easy lentil dishes, and a chicken recipe with onions, a can of chipotles with adobo, oil and chicken. The simplest dishes are the best. We tend to be lavish in everything we add. You don't need all that stuff. Just use a lot of your spice drawer that you usually don't utilize. You can make very inexpensive shakshuka with just eggs, tomatoes and peppers.

Padma’s Points

Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi next to baskets of bread and other assorted food

Smallz & Raskind/Bravo

Born: New Delhi, India

Age: 49

Author, author: Writer of three cookbooks — Easy Exotic; Tangy, Tart, Hot and Sweet; and The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs — and one memoir: Love, Loss, and What We Ate

Philanthropist: Cofounder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America, which increases awareness, research and legislative advocacy about the condition

Secret to losing baby weight: “I would walk 70 flights of stairs, two stairs at a time, in about 30 to 35 minutes.”

Always add veggies

Don't underestimate the power of your greens and herbs. Parsley has a lot of chlorophyll and vitamins, so puree that with basil and oil to make a pesto. I take whatever vegetables I have, cut them up finely and sauté them really well with different spices; add some oil; intensify the flavors with chilies and garlic; then toss that in spaghetti. I put vegetables in dishes that don't traditionally have a lot: bell peppers in my ragù, radishes in my Chicken Tagine. I want to make sure [my daughter is] not just eating shelf-stable food.

Aim for 50 percent

The healthiest thing you can do for your family's diet is to make sure at least 50 percent is fruits and vegetables. Buy a whole bunch of canned tomatoes — they have more flavor. Root vegetables, squashes, cabbage and cauliflower keep longer than green beans.

Waste nothing

The years when I was poor, especially in college, they're coming in handy now, because I learned how to cook very frugally and not to waste. Which is something we should all be thinking about anyway. We waste so much inadvertently.

Plant something

Just try your hand [and] order seeds online. Even if you have you a box or planter, not a yard, I encourage everyone to go outside. If you live in an apartment, start a little compost bin. It's hard, because compost can smell, but don't use eggshells or anything meat based, just vegetable scraps, and mix that with soil. It's not that hard to grow your own vegetables. While we are all twiddling our thumbs at home, it's a great activity to do with your kids. There's nothing more beautiful than making something grow.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 1, 2020. It has been updated with the latest information about her documentary series, Taste the Nation.