There are lots of reasons to incorporate a meatless meal into the menu rotation, and, at my house, just about everybody has a different motivation. My husband is trying to lose a bit of weight, I'm trimming the food budget, and our teenage daughter frets over meat's environmental impact. Today's Veggie-Bean Medley over Couscous satisfies everyone.

The unexpected flavor combination of cinnamon and cumin delights the taste buds, and reduced-fat coconut milk pulls the whole dish together.

We've featured zucchini, carrots and red bell pepper, but you can use any vegetables you have on hand. Broccoli or cauliflower florets, snow peas, sugar snaps and asparagus would all be terrific. This basic dish can have a different mix of veggies each time you serve it.

Finally, couscous is a nice substitute for rice. It's faster and easy to keep on hand. We've noticed that a few brands are starting to offer a quick-cooking, whole-wheat couscous that's nice for cooks trying to use more whole grains.

Regardless of whether you're a vegetarian sometimes — or never — and for whatever reason, today's recipe is a winner.

Menu suggestion: Veggie-Bean Medley over Couscous

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VEGGIE-BEAN MEDLEY OVER COUSCOUS

Start to finish: 20 minutes

1 can (14 ounces) fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 1/4 cups water

1 1/2 cups quick-cooking couscous

2 teaspoons olive oil

10 already-peeled baby carrots (for 1/2 cup sliced)

1 large onion (for about 1 cup chopped)

1 medium zucchini (for about 1 cup sliced)

1 medium red, yellow or orange bell pepper

1 tablespoon bottled minced garlic

1 can (14 1/2 ounces) stewed tomatoes (see Cook's note)

1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened, reduced-fat ("lite") coconut milk (see Cook's note)

1/2 teaspoon each dried cumin, ground cinnamon and basil leaves

1/8 teaspoon each black pepper and cayenne pepper, or to taste

1 can (15 ounces) Great Northern beans (see Cook's note)

1 small can (8 ounces) chickpeas

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves or parsley leaves, optional garnish

Cook's note: You can also use any type of seasoned diced tomatoes, such as with onion and garlic.

Look for reduced-fat or "lite" coconut milk in the Asian section of the supermarket. If you can't find lite, regular works, too. (This is not the same as sweetened coconut milk, commonly used in mixed drinks.)

The exact size of canned beans can vary from brand to brand. The exact amount doesn't matter so long as it's about 15 ounces.

Bring the broth and water to a boil in a covered 2-quart saucepan over high heat. Stir in the couscous, cover the pan, and remove it from the heat until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a 12-inch, extra-deep skillet over medium heat. Slice the carrots, adding them to the skillet as you cut. Peel and very coarsely chop the onion, adding it to the skillet as you chop. Cook, stirring from time to time. Cut the zucchini into roughly 1/4-inch thick slices, and add them to the skillet. Seed the bell pepper, and cut it into 1/4-inch thick strips. Cut the strips in half, and add them to the skillet. Add the garlic. Stir and cook until the vegetables begin to soften, about 2 minutes more.

Stir in the tomatoes with their juices, coconut milk and all of the spices. Stir well, and bring the mixture to a moderate boil. Pour the beans and chickpeas into a colander, and rinse well. Drain and shake the colander to remove as much water as possible. Add the beans, chickpeas and lime juice to the skillet, and stir gently to incorporate well. Cook until the mixture thickens a little, about 3 minutes.

To serve, fluff the couscous with a fork, and spoon a bed of it into the middle of each plate. Spoon some vegetables and sauce over the couscous. Garnish with a sprinkle of the minced cilantro or parsley, if desired.

Yield: 6 servings (Leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated in the microwave.)

Approximate values per serving: 364 calories (16 percent from fat), 7 g fat (4 g saturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 14 g protein, 64 g carbohydrates, 10 g dietary fiber, 364 mg sodium.


Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap.Fast.Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016. Or visit the Desperation Dinners Web site at www.desperationdinners.com. © United Feature Syndicate Inc.