To eat or not to eat red meat: that is the question. It seems to be a pivotal stance of identity in the culinary world. You are what you eat, they say, and many folks embark on boycotting meat for one of numerous valid and compelling reasons during their lifetime. I’m simply not one of them.I missed the vegan rite of passage, clinging to my meat-eating ways several times, including a tiring and endless stint during college where I was surrounded by macrobiotic fanatics and friends that gathered around my kitchen for my famous soy-blueberry granola pancakes. And this was the 80’s, people. In Israel.But my most memorable pass on vegetarianism was my first true exposure to it. I was ten years old and my sister was eleven. It was an uneventful afternoon in our home in Venezuela when my father arrived from work proudly toting a dead goat with him. My mother (who was from fine, gentile Pennsylvania stock and had already stunned her entire traditional family by marrying an Israeli and moving to a third world country) retained her composure and hid her utter shock at such an arrival. But my father’s eyes, which sparkled with excitement, carefully softened her stance and we all listened as he vividly recounted his luck over receiving a goat instead of a much-needed payment for one of his portable face saunas he frequently sold door-to-door. It was befitting to my father, who was always driven by culinary gusto, to consider this trade favorably, even if it meant losing the telephone line when the bill wasn’t paid.I was young and wide-eyed and my father could do no wrong. His enthusiasm swept over me like unbridled energy and I was instantly raving about the exciting delicacy of goat that awaited us. My sister, being more pragmatic and less influential, was not so smitten. To put it simply, she was horrified.”Goat?!” she squealed, as if her favorite decapitated Barbie doll where the one simmering in the stew. “Who eats goat?” she continued to demand. And as all her ‘i’s’ where dotted and ‘t’s’ where crossed in her culinary world, she quickly realized if a goat was too cute to digest then so were all the other cute animals she had been freely enjoying in her eleven years of eating and without giving it more thought, her brewing, lapis lazuli eyes hardened and she proclaimed in a loud, powerful voice:”I will not eat meat again. I am a vegetarian.” I always held my sister high up on a pedestal, but after that proclamation, I catapulted her right up there with Zeus. No meat? How? It seemed such a foreign concept: we were a family living in Venezuela in the early 80s where meat eating was a local past time. Not eating meat was like deciding not to breathe. Announcing this unachievable feat out loud made her an instant superstar for her impressionable younger sister.I felt I should proclaim the same thing. After all, we were sisters through thick and thin and this felt like one of those thin moments she’d need me by her side, like the time I fell off the swing and scraped my back raw and she took care of me. Or the time I got lost in the snow on a winter trip and she shouted and shouted and shouted my name through the bitter Vermont wind. Or the countless times she’d help me catch frogs because they were too slippery for me to hold on to. But I just couldn’t do it. Thursday nights mom always made that amazingly juicy filet mignon wrapped in thick, hickory-smoked bacon served with roasted baby potatoes and carrots all doused in a lusciously thick gravy (the secret is to scrape the pan with a hearty red wine, she taught me early on). I couldn’t forgo that dish. And then there was my all time favorite- the one request that rolled off my tongue each and every year when mom would ask me what I wanted for dinner on my birthday: Shepherd’s Pie. Mom ran the potatoes through a rice strainer to make them silky smooth and made sure there would be extra to seal in the meat and keep it extra moist and tasty. How could I ever live without that dish? And I hadn’t even considered our Sunday afternoon ritual of taking a twenty-minute trip up the mountains of Caracas to the famous steak house promptly named “Belle Vue” where waiters cloaked in tuxedos grilled endless amounts of meat tableside serving it on wooden cutting boards with scoops of avocado-based sauce called guasacaca. No, I couldn’t say farewell to that.In the split second it takes for a ten-year old to make a life-altering decision I realized this was a battle my sister would have to fight on her own. Sorry.She had a reluctant look of doom on her face, almost as if she had regretted the impulsive comment that had now inevitably turned into A Position, but she was way too stubborn to take it back. I felt bad, I really did, but by then the subtle aroma of curry had begun to creep its way into our household and the idea of goat seemed like a pretty good one after all.My mother did her best to accommodate my sister’s new life change. With every meal of succulent lamb chops or port-infused tenderloin, came a carb-exploding, mushy dish of mushroom lasagna. She tried. She really did. But as I said, this was South America in the early 80’s and vegetarianism was a horrible disability at best.Twenty-three zucchini casseroles later, my sister finally caved and declared she was reverting to her meat-eating ways. We all celebrated with big, thick, juicy burgers, With bacon. Lots of bacon. And life was restored anew.She didn’t seem to hold a grudge against me and my decision to abandon her to endless rounds of creamed cauliflower, which was a good thing because my sister was and still means the world to me and I prayed nothing would ever stand between us, except for, maybe, a good pepper steak.
PROUD-TO-EAT-MEAT LAMB CHOPS
8 Australian lamb chops
pinch of coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary1/2 teaspoon
California-style garlic salt
Light up the grill or heat a grill pan on high. Using your fingertips, rub all ingredients into the lamb, putting on both sides.
Cook on high heat for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove from heat and let sit for five minutes.