"This is what we're having for dinner tomorrow night," Grandma said, holding up the magazine she had been reading while her hair set, "It's light and easy." I copied the ingredients and main instructions into my notebook, wondering at the lightness and the ease of it. Mostly it involved scallops and olive oil and lemons and limes--a pleasant prospect indeed.
But though I wrote it down with some attention, when it came time to do the shopping, I realized I was clueless when it came to one item on the list. A lemon I can identify, and limes and I are old friends. Even scallops are fairly recognizeable, especially when they are neatly labeled behind the seafood counter. But what's a shallot? I had heard the word, indeed, I had reminded Grandma when we were making the shopping list, "It calls for shallots." She agreed that I should get some and I traipsed off to the store, still unaware that I had no idea what I was talking about.
However, the hard facts of the produce section do not allow for comfortable indistinctness. Confronted by lush rainforests of bunched parsely and ransacked pyramids of potatoes, I realized I had come with one intention uppermost in my mind, and that was to buy shallots. The question finally dawned--would I know a shallot if I saw one? I began the search in the herb section, thinking (I don't know why) that I was seeking sort of a cross between a chive and a green onion. Chives there were, in plenty, but the shallots, if they were there, were cunningly hidden. I looked wanely up and down the bins that were trying to rival a horn of plenty, bursting with. . .everything but shallots. Perhaps shallots were not called shallots in Sacramento. Perhaps they were traveling under an assumed name.
Finally I realized that there was another human being in this wilderness, a native of the place, or, at least, the produce clerk. I was going over to ask him where the shallots were kept. A fellow shopper materialized grandly and, being nearer, got in ahead of me to make inquiries about bok choy. I did not feel shortchanged; in knowing enough about bok choy to ask for it, she had betrayed herself as a woman who most likely was on a first-name basis with shallots. So I asked her while the produce clerk went off to see if there was any bok choy.
"Shallots?" she made an eloquent face. "They're over there."
I was astounded, realizing that she was pointing away from the forest of greens into the high, dry desert of potatoes and--onions.
"On the end," she said, "They're like onions, but more. . .more. . ." And that face again, as though they were a bit overdone, as things like onions went.
"Concentrated?" I wondered.
She nodded. I stared at the shallots which, from the outside, looked like undernourished yellow onions. I selected two and traipsed off to find the seafood counter.
That night I peeled one of these wonders, cut it in half, and began to dice it finely, as the recipe mandated. It inclined toward a slight purple inside.
I had discovered exactly what the elusive shallot looked like. But what did it taste like? I cut an extra slice to find out. I believe the face I made was close to the expression the lady in the grocery store had worn when revealing the long-sought vegetable. It was like an onion, but more. . .more. . .concentrated. Much more.