The grocery store looms large. And larger. So large that it comes with road map, rest stop and radio station. Which fills the rotisserie-scented air with the chipper pitch for the weekly special and the downbeat rock standard. Generally U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
Which is the grocery store theme song. Many a market nomad, wearily pushing her cart, wanders, listlessly seeking red wine vinegar or golden beet. Of course, the same frustration drove her to the grocery store in the first place. Back home, she can't locate the cumin.
She has heard of the household manager who stocks the pantry in alphabetical order. She has heard of the shopper who unloads the cart by category, so that each grocery bag corresponds to a particular kitchen shelf. She files these fantasies under as-if.
She bags her fresh jar of cumin, drives it home and twists off its plastic collar. She shakes the tan curls into a skillet and toasts them dark and fragrant. She casts them onto a heap of glistening roasted beets, breathing in earthy, earthly pleasure. Then she shoves the jar onto the spice shelf, belly to belly with a half-filled canister of ground cumin, an unopened pillar of cumin seed and a small bowl of crushed cumin. Smirking, all.
She snaps the cupboard shut. She has things to do. Like look for the sea salt.
Leah Eskin is a Tribune newspapers special contributor.
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 70 minutes
Makes: 6 servings
4 medium red beets
4 medium golden beets
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed
3/4 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons butter, cubed
1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 Roast: Scrub beets, trim stems to 1 inch, leave tails intact. Settle red beets in one ovenproof pan and golden beets in another. Add enough water to just cover the bottom of the pan. Cover with foil. Slide into a 400-degree oven and roast until easily poked with a fork, 60 minutes.
2 Slice: When beets are cool enough to handle, snap on surgical gloves. Lop off tops and tails, slip off skins. Slice into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons. Pile red beets in one half of a serving bowl, golden beets in other.
3 Simmer: Cast cumin seeds into a small, dry skillet. Toast over medium-high heat, shaking frequently, until darkened and fragrant, 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Carefully pour in juice; let bubble until thickened, 8 minutes. Stir in butter until melted. Stir in vinegar.
4 Dress: Pour sauce over beets. Do not toss. Sprinkle with salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Serve warm.
The case of the disappearing cumin
Cumin tends to wander off, probably to mess around with the other backbench spices. Where's cumin when you need it? At the grocery store.
Sweet beets (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / April 6, 2010)