Six years ago I'd never even heard of couscous. Now it's always on my pantry shelf.

Just dump it in a saucepan of boiling water for five minutes, and you've got perfect couscous. It's easier than steaming rice.In its traditional form, couscous (rhymes with goose-goose) is a staple of North Africa. The couscous we find on our grocery-store shelves is a precooked version of semolina, the creamy yellow portion of wheat that pasta is made from. Look for couscous on the aisle with the rice (the most widely available brand is called Near East) or in the international-foods section.

Couscous has a slightly nutty flavor and is a terrific alternative to pasta or rice. Light and fluffy, it can be dressed up with pepper and onion for a quick pilaf or served plain as a bed under a stew, as in today's recipe.

Summer's Bounty Stew makes use of the assortment of fresh summer veggies we typically have on hand, but feel free to substitute whatever happens to be in your vegetable bin. Extremely flexible, this stew will please the pickiest eater with its bright summer flavors.

Menu:

Summer's Bounty Stew

Field greens with bottled dressing

Sourdough rolls

SUMMER'S BOUNTY STEW

1 can (14 1/2 ounces) vegetable or fat-free chicken broth

1 1/2 cups water, divided use

1 package (10 ounces) couscous

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions (for 1 1/2 cups chopped)

1 large bell pepper, any color

2 medium yellow squash

2 medium zucchini

3 medium very ripe tomatoes (about 3/4 pound)

1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning

2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

Black pepper to taste

Bring the broth and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a covered 2-quart saucepan. When the broth boils, add the couscous, re-cover the pan and remove it from the heat.

Pour the oil into a 4 1/2-quart Dutch oven or soup pot and heat over medium heat. Peel and coarsely chop the onions, adding them to the pot as you chop. Seed and coarsely chop the pepper, adding it to the pot as you chop.

Trim the ends of the squash and zucchini. Dice them into bite-size chunks and add them to the pot. Cover the pot.

Core and dice the unpeeled tomatoes into bite-size pieces and add them to the pot with any juice. Add 1 cup water, and stir from time to time, keeping the pot covered as much as possible. Add the Italian seasoning, garlic, salt and black pepper to taste.

Boil the stew for 6 minutes or until the squash is tender, lifting the lid to stir from time to time. Remove the pot from the heat. Fluff the couscous with a fork. Serve the stew over a bed of couscous. Serves 6.

- Note: Use half of two different colors of bell pepper to add to the rainbow effect.

- Approximate Values Per Serving: 291 calories (16 percent from fat), 5 g fat (0.7 g saturated), 00 mg cholesterol, 10 g protein, 52 g carbohydrates, 11 g dietary fiber, 296 mg sodium.