The first time I heard the word 'quinoa' come out of someone's mouth, I thought they were casting a charm upon me. Well, perhaps that's overstating it a bit. However, it was an unusual sounding word to me at the time. Now, it's one of my standard go-to's as a side or even a main dish.

Although often thought of as a grain, quinoa (pronounced 'keen-wah') is the fruit of a plant that is related to spinach. Remember learning about the Inca's in school? Well, they referred to it as the "mother grain" and it was a definite staple in their diets. Inca warriors believed it increased their stamina and even sharpened their cognitive skills. I think it may, too.

A couple of things to know about quinoa? Well, here's a bonus: quinoa is a complete protein--meaning it has the perfect balance of amino acids. It's also quite high is essential trace minerals that can be hard to find in our modern foods. You may find it's quite easy to digest and is great for people seeking to eat a gluten-free diet, but would still like a "grain."

There are several varieties to choose from--white, red, and black. I've tried and enjoyed them all. I find the white is definitely the mildest and may be a good one with which to begin. You'll definitely want to rinse your quinoa or just buy a pre-rinsed variety to save time. The seeds are coated with mildly toxic saponins--just just be sure and wash it.

One of my very favorite things about quinoa, though, is how quickly I can get it on the table. Just put a cup of quinoa in a pot with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. (Sometimes I use a veggie broth for part of the water amount to add a flavor boost.) Bring to a boil, remove from heat, cover and let it simmer for 15 minutes.

There are a gazillion recipes to try, but one of my favorites is Quinoa with Garlic, Pine Nuts, and Raisins that I found on Food Network's site. Check it out here. And another favorite that would make for a GREAT fall side dish (or main dish in my case?) This simple Quinoa Pilaf with Pecans is lovely.