Padma Lakshmi isn’t vegan, but she tries her best to follow a plant-based diet when she’s not filming Top Chef or Taste the Nation. The Bravo star frequently shares some of her favorite recipes on Instagram, and the dishes are often made without meat and other animal byproducts.
She even has a “purely vegetarian” section of her kitchen with a separate counter, sink, and dishwasher, in which no eggs, meat, or fish are permitted. “It’s so that my relatives who keep vegetarian for Hindu religious reasons don’t feel shy about eating in my house,” she explained in an Instagram video in January.
Lakshmi’s recipes typically have a connection to her childhood, which was spent in India, New York, and California. For example, in January 2021, the Easy Exotic cookbook author whipped up some coconut rice using a family recipe with some (virtual) help from her mom. The vegan dish included rice, fresh coconut meat, lentils, and an array of spices such as mustard seeds and dried red chilies.
“In Indian cooking in general there’s always that trifecta of onion, ginger, and garlic, so it’s nice to have something without any of those and just have something mild and fragrant so the coconut can stand out,” she said of the “perfect” vegan meal.
Lakshmi makes a point of picking recipes that are simple and adaptable, so it’s easy for others to try them at home, no matter what their cooking experience is.
Padma Lakshmi Aims to Be Plant-Based When She’s Not Filming
Though Lakshmi eats meat when she’s filming and tasting food from around the world, she’s made a concerted effort to cut down on how much she has at home. In 2018, she said that she had proposed doing an entirely vegetarian season of Top Chef, but couldn’t persuade her costars to get on board.
Per Women’s Health, the Tangy, Tart, Hot and Sweet author opts to split her plate into halves: 50 percent fruits and vegetables; 50 percent simple carbs, starch, and lean protein. However, Lakshmi also eats some chicken, fish, ground turkey, and veal on occasion.
Still, when it comes to snacks, vegan foods are often her go-tos. In addition to as many as 10 cups of masala chai per day, Lakshmi likes a mix of sweet and savory treats. “It’s hard for me to have food in front of me and not nibble on it, so I try to make it healthy. What does that mean? That means cashews, or dried apricots,” she told Harper’s Bazaar in June 2020.
And since she eats plenty of “fancy” food packed with butter and lard while she’s filming, Lakshmi wants anything but once her work day is done. Instead, she prefers comforting, meat-free Indian staples.
“For dinner, I just eat a simple bowl of steamed basmati rice with dal or yellow lentils,” she explained to Harper’s Bazaar. “[It’s] made with lots of ginger and cumin that’s been tempered and fried in a pan with dried red chilies and fresh green chilies.”
“I’m very fluid with my cooking. I’m not a formally trained chef,” she told Women’s Health of her cooking tutorials in July 2020. “But because I’ve been judging people for over a dozen years on television, I was afraid people wouldn’t be down with me doing this kind of ad hoc cooking [in my videos].”
She added: “I’ll say, ‘Normally we use red onions in this, but I’m using shallots because that’s all I have,’ and I think that’s useful information for viewers.”
Padma Lakshmi’s Favorite Vegan Recipes
In addition to typically vegan Indian fare, Lakshmi likes to make meat-free dishes from different cultures, such as charoset—an apple and nut mixture that’s typically prepared for the Jewish Passover holiday.
In May 2021, the Love, Loss, and What We Ate author prepared a Spanish-inspired lemony chickpea salad that she learned to make over 20 years ago. “This is a great way to get fresh leafy greens, vegetables, and protein. It’ll last in your fridge for ages and most importantly it is really pretty good” she said at the time. “It’s delicious.”
This steady shift toward eating less meat is worth noting, as even a slight reduction in meat consumption is healthier for the Earth, and better for animals. Here are some of Padma Lakshmi’s favorite vegan recipes.
1 | Chickpea Tapas
In May 2021, Lakshmi shared a vegan recipe for chickpea tapas that she had learned more than 20 years earlier when she was modeling in Spain. The no fuss dish includes chickpeas, diced red bell pepper, chives, fresh lemon juice, spinach leaves, olive oil, and ground black peppercorns.
“This is a vegan recipe. This is a great way to get all of the protein you need for really little effort,” she declared. “I’m not really sure why it’s so good with really boring ingredients, but it is!”
According to Lakshmi, this dish is great on its own, but also pairs well with rice or toast and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
2 | Carrot and Coriander Salad
Lakshmi looked to her own cookbook, Tangy, Tart, Hot and Sweet, when she threw together this “super simple” vegan salad in April 2021. The dish calls for shredded carrots, cilantro, serrano chile, cranberries, and toasted sesame seeds topped with a tangy dressing.
“It’s beautiful to take to a party, it’s vegan, everybody will be in love with you,” she said upon completing the dish. “[It’s] so good.”
3 | Mango Curry
“This is a sour, spicy treat usually served at Indian weddings and special occasions but you can make it anytime!” Lakshmi wrote of this dish on Instagram in April 2021. “You just need some green/unripe mangoes, cayenne, black or brown mustard seeds, asafoetida, and salt!”
She added: “Think of this as a spicy relish or a salsa to replace a pico de gallo in tacos.”
According to the culinary pro, this dish also, called “manga curry,” works great as a relish on top of any mild rice dish or vegan hot dogs.
4 | Charoset
Lakshmi re-shared this charoset recipe tutorial in March 2021 a year after she initially made the dish, which is served on Passover.
In the clip, Lakshmi explains that while this vegan recipe was inspired by a similar recipe from cookbook author Adeena Sussman, it’s not really a “traditional” take on the sweet apple, walnut, and cinnamon mixture. That’s because Lakshmi adds dried fruits and several spices to the holiday dish, including black peppercorns and sumac. “I’m trying to incorporate other communities like Turkish Jews or Iranian Jewsih people,” she explained. “
5 | Spinach and Black Plum Salad
Lakshmi made this plant-based salad recipe from Tangy, Tart, Hot and Sweet in March 2021.
“This is one of my all time favorite salads. It’s so fresh, bright and easy to make!” she wrote on Instagram at the time. The salad is made with spinach, mint, and firm plums mixed with lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, yuzu, sea salt, and olive oil.
6 | Beans Poriyal with Fresh Coconut
This “simple” South Indian recipe is typically made as a side dish, according to Lakshmi, and goes great with various rice dishes. It contains green beans, shredded coconut, mustard seeds, lentils, red chilies, and (optional) curry leaves.
“It’s a quintessential vegetarian dish from south India,” Lakshmi explained in March 2021, noting that poriyal can be made with any vegetable. “It’s so easy to make, so healthy for you, and, most importantly, delicious.”
7 | Tofu and Mushroom Fried Rice
When she had a protein craving in February 2021 but wanted to be healthy, Lakshmi whipped up this vegan tofu and mushroom fried rice. The recipe calls for rice, shiitake mushrooms, red onion, ginger, and chili powder as well as a hoisin sauce, black vinegar, toasted sesame oil, and soy sauce marinade for the tofu.
“It’s f–king yummy, it’s amazing,” she gushed as she took a taste. “It’s so easy.”
8 | Tamarind Rice
“We made tamarind rice in honor of our new VP @kamalaharris,” Lakshmi wrote on Instagram in January 2021. She also noted that the dish is a “typical South Indian rice” that is vice president Harris’ favorite meal, as well as her own.
The dish contains about a dozen shelf-stable spices as well as nuts, but the star is flavorful tamarind paste. “This is a great thing to have on hand and you can make a big batch of it,” Lakshmi explained in the clip. “It’s basically making a tamarind paste with lots of spices and nuts, and then using that paste to mix into rice with some hot oil and a pinch of salt.”
Top photo via Kelly Sullivan | Getty Images