The Meal I Eat When I’m Feeling Comfy: Butternut Squash Toasties

Padma Lakshmi shares the snack that fosters homey, nostalgic vibes.
Padma Lakshmi Shares the Meal She Eats to Foster Comfy Nostalgic Vibes
KIND/Unique Nicole/Getty Images

In SELF’s franchise, The Meal I Eat When I’m Feeling…, we talk with chefs, celebs, athletes, and people in the culinary space about the specific foods or meals they turn to amid certain emotions—and how eating their favorites plays a vital role in their self-care.

When Padma Lakshmi thinks about the recipes she’s created that have real staying power in her life, she finds they all answer one question in the affirmative: Do they trigger some kind of emotion?

“The story or the memory that’s attached to every one of my dishes is always really important,” Lakshmi tells SELF. “I find if I don't have an emotional connection to it, even if it's tasty, I wind up not remembering it or craving it.”

That concept of food feeding the soul—not just fueling the body—is one of the cornerstones of Lakshmi’s show Taste the Nation. Throughout the food and travel docuseries, Lakshmi visits locations across the US to explore the cuisines of different immigrant communities and dig into how it shapes their culture. For instance, over the course of the 10-episode second season, she traveled to Dearborn, Michigan, to test out “glorious” Middle Eastern food during Ramadan, and she spent a week with the Cambodian community in Lowell, Massachusetts, sampling variations of kreung, the base sauce of many of their dishes.

“I’m proud of the whole season,” Lakshmi says. “It’s really about the food and communities that people often overlook or don't get mainstream, A-caliber media attention—and these are very much like the immigrant communities that I grew up in.”

Lakshmi often draws inspiration from Indian dishes when she’s coming up with ideas for new creations. While her variations may take the recipes in a new direction, they still evoke those same comforting feelings she ascribes to the OGs.

Take, for instance, one of Lakshmi’s go-to snacks: roasted butternut squash on toast. While it’s a new concoction—she recently developed it for Kind Snacks—its staple ingredient takes her back to a scent of her childhood: a pot of pumpkin or squash stew simmering on the stove with lots of coconut milk and ginger, which her grandmother used to make.

So when Lakshmi is looking to foster those same homey, nostalgic vibes, she’ll whip up a serving of the toast for a snack or a light meal. Read on for the full recipe and ways to prep it so it can hit the spot for you too.

1. Roast a squash that’ll reward you with leftovers.

A whole bunch of squash varieties—like acorn, honeynut, and butternut—work in this recipe, says Lakshmi. But she usually sticks to butternut for one vital reason: “It’s bigger,” she says.

That means if you throw one of those hearty vessels in the oven, you can revel in lots of leftovers once your timer rings an hour or so later. “I just take the flesh out once it’s roasted and put it in some Tupperware,” Lakshmi says.

Then during the week, after a long day on set or after a tough workout, she can prep a meal when she doesn’t feel like cooking. All she has to do is pop a couple slices of bread in the toaster—her favorite with this recipe is sourdough—and dinner is ready in minutes.

“You have to cut yourself a break. Have a little bit of a plan when you have some time, like on the weekend, do your shopping, and plan out what seems delicious to you. It’s like, What can I do for myself, what can I keep in the fridge?” Lakshmi says. “That way when I'm starving and I'm coming home from work, and I don't have time to make something from scratch, I have things that I can build, like that butternut squash.”

2. Experiment with different fixings.

When Lakshmi was thinking up the toast, she simply asked herself, What would taste good together? She considered the sweet flavor and mashed potato texture of the squash, and decided that something with a little tartness would be a great complement to it. So she drizzled on pomegranate molasses and was sold. (Added bonus: “It’s not like a bottle of molasses is going to go bad in your pantry,” Lakshmi says—so it’ll be ready for you whenever you want to make this dish.)

To finish off the toast, Lakshmi sprinkles on some pecans, which provide a punch of protein—and help bring some culinary enjoyment to the super soothing butternut base.

“I like a lot of texture when I eat,” she says. So when she’s eating something soft, creamy, and comforting like the butternut squash layer, “I still need that crunch,” Lakshmi says.

3. Take it away from the dinner table.

For ultimate relaxation, a comfy locale is key. “I treat my bed like my couch,” Lakshmi says.

When Lakshmi comes back from the gym on the weekend, she’ll shower, put on a pair of crisp new pajamas, and prep her toast. Then she’ll grab her newspaper—she only gets it on Sundays—make up her bed really nicely, and hop in.

“I just spread the newspaper all over, I have a plate of those toasts, and I just eat them with a big pot of tea,” Lakshmi says. “And that is comforting to me.”

How to Make It: Butternut Squash Toasties


  • 1 butternut squash (about 2.5 lbs.)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 large shallot, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. ginger, minced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 6–8 slices sourdough bread
  • 2–3 Tbsp. za’atar
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 2–3 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses
  • ⅓ cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 serrano chiles, sliced thinly into rings


  1. Preheat oven to 425°. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and salt. Roast in the oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until fork tender.
  2. Remove squash from the oven and allow it to cool slightly. Scoop the flesh out, transfer it to a bowl, and mash it roughly with a fork. Set aside.
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high. Add shallots and cook until glassy, about 4–5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, cumin, 1.5 tsp. kosher salt, and ½ tsp. black pepper and cook for 2 minutes more. Add mashed squash mixture and sauté for 3–4 minutes more. Remove the mixture from the pan and set aside.
  4. Wipe the sauté pan clean and heat a little more olive oil over medium. Add sliced sourdough bread and cook on each side for 2–3 minutes, until golden brown.
  5. Remove toasted sourdough from pan, cut slices in half, and layer a heaping spoonful of squash mixture evenly across the top.
  6. Dust the squash layer with ½ tsp. za’atar, then top with about 1 Tbsp. pecans. Drizzle pomegranate molasses and lay slices of serrano chile rings on top. Dress with pomegranate seeds. Serve warm.