Fire up the microwave and get out your favorite toppings for a spectacular spud.
Padma Lakshmi on a designed background
Credit: Getty Images / Dimitrios Kambouris

There's lots to love about potatoes—those deliciously versatile spuds are a pantry staple you can customize to your liking, whether you turn them into a potato salad, cheesy potato skins or classic baked potatoes. And if you're anything like Padma Lakshmi, you turn to a cozy baked potato anytime you need comfort food on short notice

To mimic Lakshmi's usual routine, pierce the potato all over with a knife or the tines of a fork. This will help the steam building in the potato escape as it cooks. Then place your potato on a plate and cook  in your microwave for three to six minutes. Lakshmi suggests three or four minutes for a smaller Yukon Gold potato or six minutes for a large russet potato. (Our Test Kitchen editors suggest microwaving for five minutes, then flipping and microwaving for another five minutes if you have an especially large potato.) You'll know your potato is ready when a paring knife or skewer slides easily through the center without resistance. 

Lakshmi likes to top her potato with a little butter, a scoop of plain yogurt and "a generous dose" of hot sauce—her preferred brand is Tapatío, but you could always sub in a delicious homemade alternative, like Zhoug Sauce or a Belizean Habanero Hot Sauce. Those healthy toppings punch up the flavor of an earthy potato, and the yogurt will even bring a little extra protein to your loaded potato.

When it comes to leveling up a baked potato for dinner, we recommend picking a sauce, some veggies, a protein source and some garnishes—and we have a whole menu of possible combinations to get your creative juices flowing. Or you could shake things up and throw together a stuffed potato bar for your next get-together or family dinner. Since you can whip up "baked" potatoes in your microwave in a jiffy, it'll be one of your easiest dinners ever.

While Lakshmi said that baked potato recipe is her go-to for a quick microwave meal, it's also one of her favorite childhood snacks. Even now, Lakshmi's daughter loves snacking on a small baked potato after school, Padma shared on Twitter. (If you're not a big fan of potatoes, Lakshmi also suggests hot rice with chile crisp and a fried egg as a quick and comforting dinner.)

No matter how you top your potato—broccoli and cheese, meaty marinara or even spinach and feta—it's a simple and healthy way to enjoy a cozy meal at the end of the day. Just make sure to fire up some episodes of Top Chef for a very Padma-inspired evening.