How 'Taste the Nation' Inspired Padma Lakshmi's New Cookbook

Padma Lakshmi teased to Parade details about her new cookbook and season 20 of 'Top Chef.'

It's a busy year for Padma Lakshmi.

The TV host, author, and food expert is gearing up to present the second half of the sophomore season for her Hulu series Taste the Nation, where she celebrates the diverse range of cuisines around the U.S. She's also hosting Top Chef's 20th season, premiering on Mar. 9, that takes the culinary competition across the pond to London. And, in addition to her TV hosting duties, she's working on her next cookbook.

In between her many projects, Lakshmi partnered with KIND Snacks for her own KIND Kitchen, giving fans the opportunity to try three of her tasty recipes inspired by popular bars.

Related: Padma Lakshmi Talks Eating Well on Set, Healthy Thanksgiving Hacks and Overcoming Endometriosis

At the unveiling of the speakeasy kitchen at New York City's Chelsea Market, Lakshmi talked with Parade about her love for cooking, how Taste the Nation's second season inspired her upcoming cookbook, and why Top Chef's location for the forthcoming season is so special.

Dig in to the Q&A below:

For the KIND kitchen, you created three new snacks! What sparked the inspiration for them?

This little energy bite is based on an Indian treat that I used to have when I was little. I just took some of the ingredients that a KIND bar has, like almond butter, crushed almonds, cranberries, honey, dates. Then I mixed it all up and rolled it with sesame seeds. I think the sesame seeds gives a nice additional nuttiness to the almond. Almond is like a hero ingredient for the KIND bar.

How about the next treat?

The lentil salad I love because it's vegan, it has a lot of protein. You can make it on a Saturday and you can make a lot. Especially if you're like me, I'm just single with my daughter, I'm not going to cook every single time. But this is a really healthy snack that feels hearty and it's very wholesome, but it's also really delicious.

Tell us about this last item!

Then the third one is just a butternut squash toast. We are just coming out of winter. If you go to the farmer's market in Union Square, it's just a lot of root vegetables and squash of all kinds. I love butternut squash.

We just roast the whole thing on a sheet pan, just olive oil, and salt pepper. Then you just mash it up with a little bit of shallot, and you just keep that in your fridge, too. Then you just put it on toasted bread and put a little pomegranate molasses and some green chili, pecans on it too. It's also garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds. These three things are all things that I eat a lot of.

But what do you make when you have a busy schedule?

Honestly, it can be anything like a simple yogurt, rice dish. Yogurt for us is savory, it's salty. I make just yogurt and rice with salt and spices. That I can whip up, as long as I have some cooked rice, I can make that very quickly.

Do you have any updates to share on your new cookbook?

We're in the early stages of it.

I've been hunting and gathering recipes from traveling all over with Taste The Nation. This is just those recipes—but also some from other travel. It's everything from Ukrainian food, to Cambodian food, to Afghani food and trying to make them approachable to somebody who's not from that community. Also, doing it in a way that people from that nationality would still recognize it as something authentic. It's a hard balance.

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When can we expect it on bookshelves?

I have until October to finish and turn it in.

Speaking of Taste the Nation, where did you visit for the second half of season two

We go to a Ukrainian community, both in Manhattan and also in Brighton Beach. We go to DC to meet four generations of Afghan refugees and immigrants. Then we also go to a small town in Massachusetts called Lowell. We go to this Cambodian community. I didn't know [until the show], but there is a big Cambodian community there. It's through our research we found out. It's great because that episode shows you that even people who are asylum seekers and refugees can contribute to the economy of this country.

Can you elaborate?

Lowell was a town that was really not doing well. It was really bankrupt in the 1980s and '90s. The Cambodians who came there, they revitalized the economy completely. One in four residents of Lowell, Massachusetts is Cambodian.

They didn't know the language, they didn't come with graduate degrees or anything. They just worked really hard in restaurants and other jobs like that. They not only helped themselves, but helped the whole community of Lowell. That episode is kind of my answer when people say that asylum seekers are just draining our economy and they're taking away jobs.

How does it feel having such an important, educational platform like Taste the Nation?

I feel very lucky that I get to make Taste The Nation, because it allows me to speak my mind without getting up and making a speech on my soapbox. It's more an artistic way of answering a lot of those questions and proving my point through letting other people have my platform and speak for themselves. I want the Cambodian community to speak for themselves. I want the Afghan people to tell me what it's like to walk in their shoes.

Instead of shaking my finger at people, it's a nicer way to invite them to be curious about their neighbors through food.

Before we leave, we'd love to talk Top Chef! Do you think this season will challenge how people view British cuisine?

Definitely. Unfortunately [the United Kingdom] is one of the biggest imperial colonizing forces in our civilization. But fortunately the side effect of that is that you have so many ethnic communities who are in London doing amazing food, like Persian food and Middle Eastern food, Indian food, all of it.

I think other than New York or maybe Hong Kong, there's no better culinary city than London. That's what you see. You see all of that on display and you see how our contestants interpret that.

Top Chef season 20 premieres March 9 at 9 p.m. on Bravo.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.)