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En español | Padma Lakshmi, 49, best-selling cookbook author and host of Top Chef (Bravo, Thursdays, 10 p.m. ET; streaming on Hulu + Live TV and fuboTV), offers her insights on how you can make this time at home a nourishing — and delicious — experience.
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.
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.
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.
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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, especially at a time when we feel so impotent.
Feed your mind — catch up on good TV
I always used to complain that I didn't have time to watch any television, although it's part of my work. I have taken up Game of Thrones — I'm on Season 2. My TV is in my bedroom, and often my daughter sleeps with me, so I can't watch anything not appropriate for 10-year-olds. Now I've been binge-watching after she goes to sleep. I already have insomnia; now it's just exaggerated.
Plan for the future
I'm very excited for everyone to see more of Top Chef, and I have a new Hulu show, Taste the Nation, about what connects us as Americans and as human beings. [On Taste the Nation, Lakshmi visits 10 U.S. cities with multicultural cuisines, from chop suey to the all-American wiener; it's expected to air this summer.] It was a huge growing experience for me, intellectually. I've done everything: writing voice-overs, color correction, sound engineering and mixing. To shape and create something that was just an idea is such a blessing — and daunting.