We sat down with New York City chef and Chopped judge Amanda Freitag to see how she ladles up a comforting whole-grain soup chock-full of fresh veggies. The secret? Toasting the quinoa before adding it to the soup adds a warm depth to the flavor with a hint of nuttiness that is hard to come by. This family-friendly dinner dish comes together in less than an hour and clocks in at a shy 144 calories per serving, making it the perfect go-to solution for busy weeknight.
Credit: Photo: Greg Dupree; Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling

Cooking Light: Toasting the quinoa really makes this soup stand out. What was the inspiration?

Amanda Freitag: I was on my quinoa kick, as was everybody when quinoa first became the "thing." It was more about how else can I make quinoa and how else can it make me feel good. It was one of those things that was like, "OK, I love this product. How many different ways can I make it?" Making a soup out of it was one of those healing things. It felt so good. And I think toasting quinoa is a great method for any other way you would make quinoa. It deepens the flavor.

CL: It's a simple soup. Why does it taste so complex?

AF: A lot of my recipes are like that. The whole feel of my cookbook [The Chef Next Door, William Morrow Cookbooks, from which Freitag adapted this recipe] is teaching people to build flavors out of simple things. To me, that's the best way to cook. You don't have to have all these fancy ingredients; you can take what you have—basic, beautiful ingredients—apply some techniques to them, and be shocked with what you can get.

CL: Any soup don'ts?

AF: Sometimes I think people throw too many things into one pot. The biggest thing to keep in mind when making soups is to think about that one flavor.

Get the recipe for Toasted Veggie-Quinoa Soup

CL: If this soup were a dish on Chopped, how do you think it would be different?

AF: It would probably have a 100- year-old fermented egg and some gummy bears in it.

CL: Give us two words that sum up this soup.

AF: "The cure." It's satisfying, comforting, and surprising.