Saturday, May 9, 2009

New Acquaintance

"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.

1 comment:

Elizabeth in Alaska said...

This post made me laugh! I am not sure I have ever cooked with shallots, either... I probably would have been looking among the greens as well.