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Trending Mediterranean

Family Features | 4/11/2013, 5 p.m.

Just what is all the excitement about the Mediterranean diet? Simply put, it's based on the healthy cooking and eating styles of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Experts say it can help reduce the risk of diseases, such as cardiovascular, cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

It's not difficult to do. Basically, it's based on predominantly plant-based foods. A few simple techniques can get you on your way to embracing the Mediterranean diet. Focus on several servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Add whole grains, beans and nuts to meals. Use olive oil in place of butter. Hold back on the salt; try seasoning foods with herbs and spices instead. Choose fish and poultry more often, and cut back on red meat consumption.

Here's an example. Un-Beetable Citrus Couscous Medley is a quick, great-tasting side dish that showcases many of these choices. First, the couscous. Make sure the package says whole wheat couscous.

Sauté the onions in olive oil instead of butter. Replace part of the water with vitamin C-rich orange juice to add more flavor and nutrients to the couscous. Enhance the antioxidant level with golden raisins and red pickled beets. Aunt Nellie's beets are picked at the peak of ripeness and perfectly pickled so all you have to do is open the jar, drain and chop them. Using pickled beets adds unique taste and extra texture to the dish, too.

Add crumbled feta cheese. A little of this highly-flavored cheese goes a long way. Finish the dish with toasted pine nuts. The toasting adds more intense flavor, so you can use fewer with the same results. Toss in a handful of chopped fresh herbs if you like--more color, more nutritional benefits.

Serve this couscous creation with grilled or broiled chicken or fish and a glass of wine if you wish. It could even be enjoyed as a light, meatless main dish. Fresh seasonal fruits make a good dessert.

For additional recipes and more information about Aunt Nellie's beets, visit www.auntnellies.com.

Un-Beetable Citrus Couscous Medley
Preparation time: 20 minutes, makes: 6 servings

3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 1/2 cups whole wheat or plain couscous
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup orange juice
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 jar (16 ounces) Aunt Nellie's Sliced Pickled Beets, drained and chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds, toasted

In medium saucepan, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium heat. Sauté onions 5 minutes then add couscous and stir 1 minute more. Pour in water and orange juice, bringing to slight boil. Remove from heat, sprinkle raisins over top and cover with lid. Let stand until all liquid is absorbed, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in large non-stick skillet. Add beets and warm over medium-low heat.

To serve, fluff couscous into large serving bowl. Gently stir in warmed beets, feta cheese and pine nuts or almonds.