Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's Great American Meatout -- Kiss a Cow

French-kissing cows are the logo for Les Halles, the Franco-American steakhouse in New York, Washington DC and Miami. If you go tomorrow night, I can recommend the petatou, a warm goat cheese and potato salad, the lovely salade d'Auvergene, with arugula, apples, walnuts and blue cheese, a very decadent macaroni and cheese or the healthier and perfectly pleasing vegetable plate.

I cannot recommend the steak, for which the restaurant is known because 1) I don't eat it and 2) tomorrow, neither should you. It's the 25th annual Great American Meatout --

Back in 1985, the national nonprofit FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement) set aside March 20 to promote animal compassion and plant-based ways (what we used to call vegetarianism). Since then, thousands of Americans have celebrated the first day of spring with a day of meatlessness. Great American Meatout has spread beyond our borders. It's an annual event in 20 countries including France, where it goes by the name of La Journee Sans Viande (the Day Without Meat -- everything sounds better in French).

You can have a delightful meatless experience at Les Halles, despite the fact that in his book Kitchen Confidential, the establishment's best-known former chef, Anthony Bourdain calls vegetarians "a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. . . the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit." Gosh, Tony, we don't have anything against you.

Well, maybe we do. Other chefs worth a damn don't seem to feel the way you do, so kindly don't speak for them. Food gods Michael Schwartz, Norman Van Aken, Bill Telepan and other chefs more than worth a damn have prepared amazing vegan meals for me and they were happy to do it. They like a challenge, revere fresh produce and what they do with it is nothing short of sexy (Bill, honey, you had me at wild mushrooms).

While I'm on the subject, Tony, eating odd bits of animals does not make you manly. I'm sensing a little aggression on your part (from eating all that hormone-stoked beef, perhaps?). You seem to be a very angry carnivore.

I'm not saying a day without meat (I'm embracing the French translation, okay?) will make you feel like you're on Ecstacy, but I think a meatless life, or even a meatless day does engender compassion. It's good for your health, not to mention the good it does the cow and an overtaxed planet. According to Environmental Defense, just one meatless meal per week per person would save as much carbon dioxide as taking half a million cars off the road. Going meatless makes nice to your wallet, too, because plant-based sources of protein like the dried split peas in my soup recipe below, are cheaper than their animal equivalents.

If you really want to save money, skip Les Halles tomorrow and make this soup. Enjoy it for a Great American Meatout dinner and have leftovers throughout the weekend.

Curried Split Pea Soup

2 cups split peas*
2 tablespoons butter
2 onions
2 carrots
6 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon
chopped cilantro for garnish -- optional

*Start the peas the day before. Pour them into a large pot, cover with water and soak overnight.

In a large soup pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. In a food processor finely chop onions and carrots (or and saute in the butter until just tender, about 7 minutes. Add drained and rinsed split peas, vegetable broth, curry and turmeric. Turn heat to high, bring to boil, then reduce head to low, cover and simmer for an hour or until peas start to go mushy. Turn off heat and let the soup cool down.

At this point, you can puree the whole thing with an immersion blender, if you're fortunate enough to have one. If, like me, you don't, here's what I advise -- strain into a large. Take the pea and vegetable solids and puree in the food processor. Then stir back into the liquid until thickened and uniform. Squeeze in lemon juice, season with salt and pepper.

Freezes well, keeps covered and refrigerated for days. To serve, heat through and top with chopped cilantro.

Serves 6.


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