Couscous, a fine pellet made from semolina flour and long a staple of Mediterranean countries, involves several steps to achieve perfection if prepared conventionally in a traditional couscoussie re.

This pot is made in two parts, a bottom one deep enough to hold a large abundance of what will be stewed and a top, which is perforated and not as deep, to hold the couscous for steaming.

While an aromatic and vegetable-enriched stew cooks in the bottom pot, the grain cooks in the steam of the stew in the top vessel. The prehandling of the grain and the steaming procedure are not difficult, although they are time-consuming: First, you wash and dry the couscous, working the grains between your fingertips before steaming for the first time; next, you dry the grain and work it again with oiled fingers to separate out any lumps; finally, the grain gets steamed again to its final conclusion.

Luckily, though, fans of couscous can purchase the grain in its "quick-cooked" state, most commonly found in markets under the brand name Near East. This couscous is medium grained, and it is presteamed. It should be prepared at the last minute, about 5 minutes before serving; otherwise the couscous will become soggy. With presteamed couscous, the general rule is to use equal amounts of liquid (in the form of broth or water) and couscous, and about 2 tablespoons of butter for every 1 1/4 cups couscous used.

The instant couscous is cooked in the following way: The liquid and butter are brought to a boil in a saucepan. As soon as the liquid boils, the couscous is stirred in, covered immediately and taken off the heat to stand for exactly 5 minutes. The couscous will then steam-cook in the liquid; after the 5 minutes are up, you can season the couscous with salt and pepper and separate the grains by fluffing them up with a fork. That's all there is to it.

There are those who will insist that instant couscous is a culinary abomination and that the only valid couscous is the one that involves four or more processes and is cooked in the traditional pot, but it seems that technology has lightened the load of the cook and made the making of couscous available to all time schedules. Either way, tender grains of couscous are delicious with almost anything that is braised gently in liquid, as the resulting pan gravy is a good moistener for the grains.

In addition to meaning pellets of semolina grain, the word couscous also refers to the entire dish of the cooked protein-rich grain product and/or vegetables. The steamed couscous is placed in a big heap on a platter, the center hollowed out, and a piping hot combination of lamb, poultry or vegetables (alone or mixed with meat) is turned into the center. Traditional matches are lamb with chickpeas, sweet spices (cinnamon, ginger), coloring spices (turmeric, saffron), vegetables (zucchini, tomatoes and onions; or pumpkin and carrots) plus liquid, all served in the middle of a ring of couscous; chicken flavored with ginger, saffron, onion, cinnamon and sugar, cooked until tender, then brushed with honey and glazed before landing in a well surrounded by hot couscous.

The following recipes of slowly simmered dishes are laden with many herbs and spices: The chicken wings are slow-cooked with ginger, garlic, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg, sweetened with honey and balanced with onions. Shoulder veal chops, cooked with onions, garlic, cumin, paprika and a generous amount of cracked green olives is not sweet at all by comparison to the gingered chicken wings, but gently acidic.

The lamb with whole garlic cloves takes cubes of lamb shoulder and simmers the chunks with peeled garlic cloves, root vegetables, some thyme, tomato paste and chicken broth. When the garlic is cooked in broth for a long period of time, it is soft, lightly fragrant and mellow-sweet; the mashed cloves are good spread on bread or some of the cloves can be pureed and whisked through the pan sauce in which the lamb was cooked

The chicken with cauliflower is an enticing combination of chicken scented with rosemary and onions, carrots and celery, with a little blanched bacon added for an earth flavor. Surrounded by a ring of couscous, this chicken-with-vegetable dish is a meal in itself. The beef with acorn squash, raisins and spices is complex-tasting, owing to the addition of cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cloves and nutmeg, and a finely chopped ripe pear, all of which give depth to the sauce on more than one level.

Quick-steamed couscous accompanies all the braised dishes and looks quite pretty when heaped on a large, colorful round platter and spread out into a ring to enclose the sweet and savory food. LAMB WITH GARLIC CLOVES AND COUSCOUS (4 to 6 servings)

This is an earthy, aromatic dish, with whole garlic cloves cooked until buttery and sweet with the cubes of lamb. The couscous acts as a good absorber for the sauce created by cooking the lamb. Don't be put off or alarmed by the amount of garlic called for in this recipe: Whole, peeled garlic cloves flavor the sauce gently, and the long-cooked cloves turn into soft pearls that can be mashed into the pan sauce, left whole or used to spread on crusty bread just as you would use butter.

FOR THE LAMB:

3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes, including some of the shoulder bones, if available.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 heads of garlic, finely broken into cloves, and the cloves peeled

2 ribs celery, diced

1 carrot, diced

3 tablespoons minced parsley leaves

2 tablespoons good quality tomato paste

3 cups chicken broth (2 1/2 cups broth and 1/2 cup dry white vermouth may be used in place of the full quantity of broth)

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

FOR THE COUSCOUS:

1 1/4 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups "quick-cooking" couscous

Pat dry the pieces of lamb (and lamb bones, if you are using them) on paper toweling. Heat 3 tablespoons butter and oil in a 6-quart casserole over moderately high heat until the butter has foamed and the foam has subsided. A batch at a time, brown the lamb cubes in the hot fat; remove them to a side dish as they are browned. Brown the lamb bones. When all of the lamb has been browned, there should be a thin layer of cooking fat on the bottom of the pan; if the oil-butter has badly burned, wash out the pot and add 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of oil.

Add the onion to the casserole and stir-cook over moderately low heat for 2 minutes; add the garlic, celery and carrot and stir-cook over low heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the parsley, tomato paste, chicken broth and thyme. Season with salt and pepper; bring the contents of the casserole to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Add the lamb cubes and place the browned lamb bones on top. Baste the bones with some of the liquid, cover and bring everything to a low boil. Simmer the lamb on the stove top (or on the lower third of a 325-degree oven) for 1 3/4 to 2 hours.

Discard the lamb bones and skim off any fat. If the liquid has not reduced to a lightly thickened and syrupy consistency, remove the lamb pieces with a slotted spoon and boil down the liquid until very lightly condensed. Return the lamb pieces and adjust the seasoning, adding additional salt and pepper, as necessary. Keep warm, or cool, transfer to a storage container, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. For serving, bring to a simmer.

To prepare the couscous: Bring the broth and butter to a boil in a saucepan. When the broth is boiling, stir in the couscous and cover right away. Remove from the heat and let stand 5 minutes. Fork through the couscous to break up any lumps and season with salt and pepper. Mound the couscous on a large platter that is at least 2 inches deep.

With a spoon, push out the couscous to form a large ring and pour in the piping-hot lamb ragout. Serve each person a portion of couscous, some lamb and the soft garlic cloves; spoon a little gravy over all. GINGERED CHICKEN WINGS, CHICKPEAS AND COUSCOUS (4 to 6 servings)

The chicken wings turn out spicy and sweet when cooked in a gingered and spiced liquid. The garlic and onions undercut the sweetness of the spices and honey.

FOR THE CHICKEN WINGS:

7 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

20 chicken wings, wing tips removed (tips may be frozen and used later on for making broth)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 pound onions, thinly sliced

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 cup dark seeded raisins

5 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

3 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup dark honey

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas

FOR THE COUSCOUS:

1 1/4 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups "quick-cooking" couscous

To prepare the chicken wings: Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 4 tablespoons oil in a heavy dutch oven or casserole over moderately high heat. Pat dry the wings on paper toweling; brown the wings in the hot fat, a batch at a time. As the wings are browned, transfer them to a side dish and season with salt and pepper.

When all of the wings are browned, pour out the fat and add 5 tablespoons butter. Stir in the onions and cook in the butter over low heat for 5 to 6 minutes, or until just beginning to soften. Stir in the garlic; stir-cook for 3 minutes. Stir in both gingers, turmeric, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and raisins; stir-cook for 1 minute. Stir in the 3 tablespoons parsley, broth and honey; bring to the boil, stirring. Add the chicken wings and baste with the liquid. Bring the liquid to a rapid simmer, cover the casserole and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the chickpeas, stir them in, cover the casserole and continue simmering for 30 minutes longer or until the wings are very tender.

If the liquid in the pot is thin instead of lightly thickened, remove the chicken wings along with the chickpeas (don't worry if half of the chickpeas are left behind) to a side dish; bring the liquid to a boil and continue boiling to concentrate it and reduce slightly. The wings may be prepared hours ahead to this point.

Prepare the couscous: Bring the broth and butter to a boil in a saucepan. When the broth is boiling, stir in the couscous and cover right away. Remove from the heat and let stand 5 minutes. Fork through the couscous to break up any lumps and season with salt and pepper. Mound the couscous on a large platter that is at least 2 inches deep.

Make a large well in the center of the couscous, pushing it out to form a large ring. Pour in the chicken and chickpeas and most of the pan sauce. Scatter the chopped parsley over the top and serve. VEAL CHOPS WITH ONIONS, OLIVES AND COUSCOUS (4 to 6 servings)

Veal chops taken from the shoulder cook tender and succulent in good broth, onions and olives. The couscous mellows out the flavor of the olives, while giving the dish another contrasting texture.

FOR THE VEAL CHOPS:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 shoulder veal chops, cut 3/4 to 1 inch thick, bone-in

1 pound onions, sliced into 1/3-inch thick rings

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

5 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

3 tablespoons minced fresh coriander leaves (2 teaspoons ground coriander may be substituted if the fresh is not available)

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1 1/2 cups chicken broth, or more if necessary

Juice of half a lemon

1 cup green olives (packed in brine), well drained and gently cracked with the dull side of a knife or cleaver

FOR THE COUSCOUS:

1 1/4 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups "quick-cooking" couscous

For the veal chops: Melt 2 tablespoons butter and vegetable oil over moderately high heat in a heavy skillet that can accomodate all of the veal chops later on, overlapping slightly. Pat dry the chops on paper toweling. Brown the veal chops on both sides, in two batches, in the hot fat; remove to a side dish as they are browned. When all of the chops have been browned, discard the cooking oil-butter and add 4 tablespoons butter.

Saute' the onions in the butter over low heat for 8 minutes, stirring now and again. Stir in the garlic, cumin, paprika and turmeric; stir-cook over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons parsley, the coriander and ginger; cook for 30 seconds. Pour in the chicken broth and lemon juice; bring to the boil. Add the browned chops, overlapping slightly, to the liquid and spices; baste with the liquid. Bring the contents of the skillet to a simmer, cover and simmer for about 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the chops are very tender, adding more broth if it evaporates too quickly; alternately, braise the chops on the lower third of a 325-degree oven until tender. Halfway through the cooking time, add the olives, turn the chops over and about in the sauce, cover and continue cooking.

If the liquid in the skillet is thin and not lightly condensed, remove the veal chops to a side dish while you boil down the pan juices to thicken them slightly. The pan sauce should have a tart edge or a tang. The veal chops may be prepared hours ahead and reheated.

While the chops are cooking, or reheating, prepare the couscous: Bring the broth and butter to a boil in a saucepan. When the broth is boiling, stir in the couscous and cover right away. Remove from the heat and let stand 5 minutes. Fork through the couscous to break up any lumps and season with salt and pepper. Mound the couscous on a large platter that is at least 2 inches deep.

Arrange the chops, overlapping each other, in the center of the couscous and spoon over the pan sauce along with the olives. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons chopped parsley over all and serve each person a portion of couscous, a veal chop and the olive-enriched sauce. CHICKEN WITH CAULIFLOWER AND COUSCOUS (4 to 6 servings)

The chicken pieces, browned, are simmered in a well-flavored liquid made up of chicken broth, root vegetables and herbs. The pan sauce that results when the chicken is cooked through makes a delicious "gravy" for the steamed couscous.

FOR THE CHICKEN:

1/3 cup cubed bacon, simmered in water for 10 minutes, drained and dried well on paper toweling

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 1/2-pound whole chicken, cut up into 8 serving pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 rib celery, diced

2 carrots, diced

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/2 cup dry white vermouth

2 cups chicken broth

1 small imported bay leaf

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

1 head cauliflower, trimmed and broken into flowerets

FOR THE COUSCOUS:

1 1/4 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups "quick-cooking" couscous

In a dutch oven or casserole, place the bacon cubes, butter and oil; cook over moderate heat until the bacon browns lightly. Transfer the bacon to a side dish with a slotted spoon; set aside. Pat dry the pieces of chicken on paper toweling. Brown the chicken pieces, a few at a time, in the hot fat and transfer them to a side dish as they are browned. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

In the same casserole, saute' the onion in the butter-oil until soft over low heat, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the celery and carrots; cook 1 minute. Stir in the rosemary and pour in the vermouth; bring to a boil, stirring, and boil 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bay leaf and bring to the boil; stir in the parsley and put in the browned chicken pieces and any juices that may have accumulated. Add the bacon cubes. Baste the chicken with the liquid, bring to the simmer, cover and simmer until the chicken is tender, about 30 to 35 minutes.

In the meantime, steam the cauliflowerets until barely cooked through (they will reheat with the chicken later on); refresh in cold water and drain on paper toweling.

Just before serving, bring the chicken to a simmer, add the cauliflowerets, and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as necessary.

While the chicken is simmering, make the couscous: Bring the broth and butter to a boil in a saucepan. When the broth is boiling, stir in the couscous and cover right away. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fork through the couscous to break up any lumps, season with salt and pepper and mound it on a large plate.

Make a well in the center of the couscous and add the chicken and cauliflower (the platter must be fairly large and at least 2 inches deep).

Serve each person some chicken, cauliflower and couscous from the large platter. BEEF WITH ACORN SQUASH, RAISINS, AROMATIC SPICES AND COUSCOUS (4 to 6 servings)

Intensely fragrant spices, sweet raisins and hefty chunks of acorn squash flavor cubes of rump pot roast. This is a full-bodied dish, one which is entirely welcome on a bone-chilling winter evening.

FOR THE BEEF:

3 pounds rump pot roast, cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch cubes

1 cup all-purpose flour (approximately), spread out on dinner plate

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 red onions, finely chopped

1 small very ripe pear, peeled, stemmed, cored and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 ribs celery, diced

1 carrot, diced

1/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 small imported bay leaf

3 cups beef broth

1 cup dry red wine

1 pound acorn squash, halved and seeds removed with a melon-ball scoop

1/4 cup dark seeded raisins

FOR THE COUSCOUS:

1 1/4 cups beef broth

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups "quick-cooking" couscous

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves for garnish

2 tablespoon pine nuts, lightly toasted for garnish (optional)

First prepare the beef: Dry the cubes of beef on paper toweling, then dredge a few at a time lightly in the flour and brown them in the oil-butter, which has been heated over high heat in a 6-quart dutch oven (or casserole). As the beef is browned, remove to a side dish and season with salt and pepper. Wash out the casserole if the butter-oil has badly burned and add 4 tablespoons butter; otherwise, continue with the recipe.

Add the onions to the pot and cook slowly over low heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped pear, garlic, celery and carrot; stir-cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the dark brown sugar. Stir in the cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cloves and nutmeg; stir-cook over moderately low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the spices darken slightly, and begin to give forth their aromas. Add the bay leaf. Pour in the beef broth and red wine; bring to a boil and boil for 4 minutes. Add the beef cubes and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer the beef until tender, about 3-3 1/2 hours, on the stove top or the lower third of a 325-degree oven.

Skim off any fat. If the cooking liquid has not condensed lightly, remove the beef cubes to a side dish with a slotted spoon and boil down the liquid until very lightly thickened. The beef may be prepared up to 2 days in advance; transfer the beef and cooking liquid to a storage container, cover, cool and refrigerate. For serving, bring to the simmer, covered, until piping hot.

While the beef is cooking, or any time prior to serving, steam the acorn squash until barely tender. When cool enough to handle, carefully pare off the outer peel and cut into cubes. Add the cubes of squash to the beef, along with the raisins, and simmer everything together for about 10 minutes, or until the flavors blend and the squash is tender. Add additional salt and pepper, as necessary.

While the squash is heating up, prepare the couscous: Bring the broth and butter to a boil in a saucepan. When the broth is boiling, stir in the couscous and cover right away. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fork through the couscous to break up any lumps, season with salt and pepper, and mound it on a large platter.

Make a very large well in the center of the platter and add the beef and squash, with as much "gravy" as the platter will hold without leaving the meat awash. Sprinkle the parsley over the top of the couscous and scatter the pine nuts over the meat and squash. Serve each person some meat and squash, couscous and gravy.