Power your plate with nutrition

Registered dietitian Becky Varner helps you power your plate with nutrition in time for National Nutrition Month.
By Becky Varner Modified: March 6, 2013 at 10:00 am •  Published: March 6, 2013

As cultures bleed together, foods and traditions once thought exotic are a part of our everyday lives. Many multicultural nutrient-dense foods come from various cuisines from around the world. And many of these foods fit beautifully into the food groups in the MyPlate nutritional plan.

Couscous is a tiny, round pasta traditionally made from ground millet. It is very popular in North Africa. It differs from Western and Asian pastas. The grains are more similar to rice or grits than noodles. In the U.S., it often is made from ground semolina wheat, but whole-wheat couscous is available. It can be used in salads, soups, casseroles or served in a side dish similar to rice.

Couscous is quite versatile and quick to fix. Many ingredients can be added to it, and if there is a vegetable you don't like in a couscous recipe, you can substitute another vegetable to use instead.

This Couscous with Vegetables and Toasted Almonds recipe includes foods from every food group in MyPlate except dairy. Couscous is in the grain group; the onion, sweet potatoes, zucchini squash, green peas and carrots are in the vegetable group; and raisins are in the fruit group. Garbanzo beans can count in the vegetable group or in the protein group because of the amount of protein they contain. Toasted almonds are in the protein group.

Since garbanzo beans and almonds are plant-based proteins, this recipe could be served as a plant-based protein alternative. Add a glass of skim milk with the meal or enjoy a dessert of pudding or your favorite fruit-flavored yogurt.


Couscous with Vegetables

and Toasted Almonds

Makes 6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 small onion, quartered and thinly sliced, about 1 cup

4 cups 99 percent fat-free low-sodium chicken broth

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1½ cups cubed sweet potatoes, ½-inch cubes

1 cup sliced carrots, ¼-inch slices

1 cup frozen peas (thawed)

1 cup raisins, golden or dark

1 cup zucchini squash, ½-inch cubes

1 cup whole-wheat couscous

16 ounce can garbanzo beans, not drained

1 cup fresh chopped cilantro

¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted

• Pour oil in skillet and heat to medium. Add onion and garlic and saute 1 to 2 minutes until edges of onion begin to brown.

• Add chicken broth, cumin, cayenne pepper, sweet potatoes, carrots, peas and raisins. Stir to mix. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

• Add zucchini squash, garbanzo beans, cilantro and couscous. Cook an additional 5 to 7 minutes, uncovered, until liquid is absorbed.

• Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with toasted almonds.

• Nutrition Information: This recipe makes 6 servings. Each serving contains approximately 397 calories, 7 grams fat and 357 mg sodium.

Lunch and Learn

Becky Varner will teach the upcoming Healthy Learn with Lunch cooking classes:

• Sauteed Chicken with Apricots in a Skillet, Corn & Tomato with Feta Salad and Pineapple Sorbet at noon Tuesday, Buy For Less at 3501 Northwest Expressway, and at noon March 19, Buy For Less 10011 SE 15, Midwest City.

• Healthy Learn with Brunch: Granola Breakfast Bars & Pineapple Sorbet, 9:30 a.m. March 20 at Uptown Grocery Co., 1230 W Covell, Edmond.

Class sizes are limited, call 302-6273, ext. 332, for reservations.

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