One Per­fect Meal

For Padma Lak­shmi, the host of Top Chef and a best-sell­ing food writer and cook­book au­thor, the hum­ble dish that kept her go­ing when she was young and broke still feeds her soul.

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Top Chef’s Padma Lak­shmi turns to this beloved dish of­ten

The meal I re­ally love is one that con­nects the dif­fer­ent in­flu­ences in my life—the blend­ing of East and West. It’s Pondicherry Len­til Salad, made with small black lentils, ap­ples, and pep­pers and gar­nished with fresh gin­ger and co­conut. I came up with it when I was liv­ing in France af­ter col­lege. At the time, I had stu­dent loans to pay off and no money. I was mod­el­ing and liv­ing in an apart­ment with five other women. The dish was an easy way to eat health­fully and de­li­ciously but in­ex­pen­sively. I was very far from home, and it gave me so­lace and sus­te­nance. If you look at the recipe, the pars­ley, olive oil, and bal­samic vine­gar don’t re­ally go with the sesame oil, gin­ger, and co­conut. But in my mind they do be­cause they’re part of who I am. This hum­ble bowl of lentils has al­ways meant the world to me. Though I no longer have to watch my pen­nies, I still re­turn to the recipes I am emo­tion­ally an­chored to. I think we all eat this way. At the end of the day, we are just look­ing for the con­nec­tion of soul to tummy.

MAKE THIS DISH To get the recipe for Padma’s Pondicherry Len­til Salad, go to

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