"Beefless Wednesdays," a campaign fresh out of New York City, has made its way to Washington. This year's version of the beef boycott that first hit six years ago, however, is a moderate reaction to soaring beef prices.

But even its reasonable tone-asking people to cut down, not out-displeases the beef industry. "Consumers can make their own choices," says the vice president of the National Cattlemen's Association (NCA). "They shouldn't be told what to do."

Yet the NCA acknowledges that the public is already buying less beef and they don't like the idea of an organized effort to encourage more people to do the same thing.

The NCA position is that: "The public doesn't need gratuitous advice from self-appointed protectors. In a recent national survey . . . two-thirds said they already were making adjustments in their beef purchases-including buying cheaper cuts, watching for advertised specials, buying in quantity, buying less beef and buying other meats."

When the Americans for Democractic Action announced the opening of the beefless campaign in Washington last week in front of a supermarket on Connecticut Avenue, several of their volunteers did a brisk business asking customers to sign a petition for President Carter. It asks him to take more aggressive action to control beef prices.

Said one signer: "We don't even eat beef once a week. We eat a great deal of chicken, ham and some fish."

Another man said he preferred eggs for protein. "They're a better source; they're much cheaper. We only eat beef once a week."

The average current price of beef in the Washington area is 61 percent higher than it was a year ago, up from 99 cents a pound to $1.59. According to economic forecasts, 7 percent less beef was expected on the market this month than during a comparable period between 1976 and 1978. Americans had already reduced their annual per capita consumption by five pounds last year. Simply put, though there's less beef to go around, there may be fewer people eating more of it. Since the boycott, when many people cut back their consumption of beef, not all of them have returned to their pre-1973 levels.

The government is urging the same kind of moderation. Esther Peterson's White House Office of Consumer Affairs tells meat buyers to substitute "three additional pounds of chicken, pork or other protein source for three less pounds of beef during the month." This will compensate for the 7 percent droup in supplies. Peterson, through the new monthly "National Consumer Buying Alert," suggests that, "If consumers respond quickly to the better buys in pork and poultry, we will experience less beef price inflation."

The federal government is also reducing its purchases of beef by 25 percent over the next 18 months, making the same substitutions in purchases for the Departments of Agriculture and Defense and the Veterans Administration.

The Carter administration's chief inflation fighter, Alfred Kahn, said the government can't do much to control beef prices because it takes time for cattle herds to be rebuilt, but he said, "It is certainly both possible and desirable for us to be more prudent shoppers."

The organizers of "Beefless Wednesday," which is circulating petitions in Cleveland, Syracuse, Detroit, Gary, Ind., and throughout Georgia as well as in Washington and New York, disagree with Kahn. The petition asks the president to put farm prices under a federal program to control food costs and to investigate beef pricing policies. There have been charges that the industry manipulates the price of beef. Congress has held some hearings.

Why did the 1979 beef boycott begin in Arpril, just as it did in 1973? Is it possible that the organizers, looking at the psychology of such an action, decided there was no better time to get people off beef and on to something else than at the arrival of such diversions as asparagus and strawberries, new potatoes and peas, crab and shad?

Whether or not they thought about it, spring is a time when even the most dedicated meat-and-potatoes person is willing to contemplate something else. Heavy, hearty stews seem less important when the temperature is 70 degrees. And a plate laden with fresh, green asparagus, absent from the market for more than half a year, is a diversion that makes beefless, even meatless, meals quite acceptable. Even a fruit bowl, replete with juicy strawberries, and served with a grilled meunster cheese sandwich is welcomed.

For those who would like to 'switch to something else," the following chart, prepared by the Department of Agriculture, offers protein alternatives. And these recipes offer both alternatives to beef and diversions to mask the absence of beef.

SLICED CHICKEN WITH ASPARAGUS

(4 servings) 2 boneless chicken breasts, partially frozen 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken broth 1/4 teaspoon white pepper 3/4 teaspoon salt 3 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch 1 1/2 pounds asparagus 1 large carrot 1 clove garlic 1/4 cup corn oil

Either slice chicken thinly or put through food processor with slicing disk. Marinate chicken in mixture of 2 tablespoons broth, pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons cornstarch for at least 15 minutes. Combine remaining 1/2 cup chicken broth and 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch in small bowl. Remove the white end of the asparagus. Slice the spears diagonally 1/4 inch thick. Scrape the carrot and slice it diagonally as you did the asparagus, but make the carrot slices a little thinner.

Put oil in a wok or pan over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add garlic. When garlic turns brown remove it and put in the asparagus and carrot slices. Add remaining salt and cook, stirring and turning, 1 minute. Remove to a dish with slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the wok. Add the chicken slices and cook quickly, stirring, until they change color and cook through, about 2 minutes. Stir the chicken broth mixture and add it to chicken, stirring until sauce thickens. Return asparagus and carrots to wok; combine well and serve.

Adapted from "Chinese Cooking the Easy Way" by Dee Wang

ASPARAGUS WITH EGGS AND BROWNED BUTTER

(6 servings) 12 hard-cooked eggs 48 heavy asparagus spears Generous grating nutmeg Salt 8 tablespoons butter 1 bunch watercress, woody stems removed, rinsed under cold water, drained and chopped

Cut asparagus to fit crosswise in shallow oven-proof serving dish. Arrange them in the dish. Add a sprinkling of water, nutmeg and salt. Cover dish tightly with foil. In small saucepan melt butter and over low heat, stirring constantly, allow it to brown slightly. Set aside. Chop eggs. Bake asparagus at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until tender. Serve asparagus on warmed plates, passing warm butter, watercress and eggs separately.

CHINESE CASSEROLE

(2 servings) Lettuce leaves to line casserole 2 pork chops (about 1/2 pound), cut into 1/2-inch cubes 3 hard-cooked eggs 1 square fresh bean curd, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 1/4 cup bamboo shoots, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 1 small onion, cut in half from top to bottom, and cut into 1/4-inch slices along the grain 2 tablespoons black soy sauce 2 tablespoons sherry 1/2 teaspoon sugar 2 cloves garlice, finely minced 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root 1 whole star anise 1/4 cup chicken broth 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

Line a one-quart casserole with lettuce leaves. Put cubed pork, eggs, bean curd, bamboo shoots and onion in casserole. Mix together soy sauce, sherry, sugar, garlic, ginger, star anise and chicken broth and pour into casserole. Bring to boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and cover casserole. Simmer for 1/2 hour. Stir ingredients and simmer another 1/2 hour. Drizzle sesame oil over contents; stir again and serve.

Adapted from "Introducing Chinese Casserole Cooking" by Lilah Kan

CHEESE AND POTATO SALAD

(6 servings) 1 pound new potatoes, boiled in their jackets 1/4 cup oil and vinegar dressing 8 ounces Grueyere cheese, diced 1/2 cup diced celery 2 green onions, finely chopped, including 2 inches of green tops 4 hard-cooked eggs 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley 2 slices nitrite-free bacon, cooked crisply and crumbed 1/2 cup mayonnaise 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste Lettuce leaves

Peel and dice potatoes while still warm. Sprinkle with dressing. Toss gently and allow to cook. In mixing bowl combine potatoes, cheese, celery, green onions, 3 eggs, chopped, 2 tablespoons parsley and bacon. Mix the mayonnaise with the mustard and add to salad. Mix gently but thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. To serve, mound the salad in a bowl lined with lettuce. Chop remaining parsley. Sprinkle over salad.

Adapted from "The Book of Salads" by Sonia Uvezian

BAKED SHAD

(6 servings) 3 pounds shad Salt and pepper to taste 1 large clove garlic, minced 1/2 cup melted butter 1/4 cup soy sauce 3 tablespoons lime juice 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Split the shad along the back and remove large bone. Combine salt, pepper, and garlic and rub mixture onto surface and inside fish. Combine butter, soy, lime juice and cayenne. Bake shad at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, basting frequently with sauce mixture. Arrange fish on heated serving dish and pour over remaining sauce.

MINTED NEW PEAS

(4 servings) 2 pounds frest peas in pods (2 cup shelled peas) 1/2 cup chopped green onion 3 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, finely chopped 1 teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary Salt to taste

Shell peas. Saute onion in butter until tender. Add peas, 2 tablespoons water, mint, sugar, lemon juice, rosemary and salt. Cover and cook until peas are just tender, about 6 or 7 minutes. Garnish with mint leaves, if desired.

SOUR CREAM TOMATO SAUCE

(1 cup) 1/2 cup chopped peeled fresh tomatoes 1/2 cup sour cream Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 1/2 teaspoon dried basil or 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh basil 1/2 teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon paprika

Mix all ingredients together in top of double boiler over simmering water until thoroughly heated. Served over 2 pounds of asparagus.

STRAWBERRY PAVLOVA

(6 servings) 6 eggs whites 3/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 teaspoons vinegar 2 pints strawberries 1 cup heavy cream 1/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat whites until foamy; gradually add 3/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and vinegar, beating until stiff and glossy. Cover greased baking sheet with paper and grease paper. Heap meringue onto greased wax paper into a mound 5 inches wide and 4 inches high. Bake at 30 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 275 degrees and bake 45 to 55 minutes longer, until meringue is crisp and golden on the outside. Cool meringue. Keep in lightly covered container of freeze, if not used immediately. If frozen, return to room temperature before continuing with directions.

To serve, crush enough strawberries to make 1 cup. Whip cream until stiff, adding 1/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Fold in crushed berries. Spread whipped cream mixture over meringue. Arrange remaining whole berries around adge of meringue and a few on top.

STRAWBERRY CREAM

(6 servings) 2 pints strawberries Confectioners' sugar 1/2 pint heavy cream 3 egg whites 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 cup sweet Marsala

Wash and dry berries and puree in blender or put through sieve. Place in a dish and scatter confectioners' sugar over them lightly. Refrigerate. Meanwhile whip cream stiffly and fold in sugar and Marsala. In another bowl, whip egg whites. Combine cream mixture with whites gently. Refrigerate for several hours before serving. CAPTION: Chart, Protein Equivalency