What Are Shallots and What Can I Do with Them?

Think of the sweet, mild-tasting shallot as the more chilled-out cousin of an onion. Learn about the nutritional benefits of shallots, how they're different from onions and creative ways to cook with them.

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Shallots, which are part of the onion family, have a long and distinguished history. The word "shallot" comes from the place name "Askalon," which is now the city of Ashkelon in Israel. Pliny the Elder believed shallots originated there, although experts today now generally agree that they were first encountered in Asia. Shallots tend to have an elongated shape, and although many that are sold in U.S. supermarkets have golden skin, shallots can also have a gray, pink or red covering.

Although they're less obvious than ingredients like regular onions, garlic, lemons and canned tomato sauce, shallots are an excellent pantry staple, since they can be incorporated into many different dishes.

Shallots vs. Onions: How Are They Different?

Shallots and onions are part of the same Allium genus, but shallots are included in a group known as aggregate or bunching onions, because they split into distinct clusters. Shallots have a mellower flavor and odor than regular onions, which makes them a good choice for serving raw in salads or using in salad dressings.

How to Cut a Shallot

When you buy a shallot bulb, you may find that it has two sections, or lobes. (Note that "1 shallot" in a recipe often means an entire bulb, unless the shallot is especially large or small.)

For each lobe, cut off both the stem and the root end, then remove the skin with your hands or a paring knife. For regular slices, cut the shallot down the middle lengthwise, making two flat halves. Then cut strips from each side.

To mince a shallot, make the two flat halves as described above. On the first half, make several regularly spaced vertical cuts (about ⅛ inch apart). Next, turn your knife so you can make another group of horizontal cuts with the same ⅛-inch spacing, creating minced shallots. Repeat the process for the second half. (Note that the steps are the same for diced shallots, only the cuts should be about ¼ inch apart.)

Health Benefits of Shallots

The International Journal of Molecular and Cellular Medicine reports that eating allium vegetables (like onions and shallots) is associated with a decreased risk of "cardiovascular, diabetes and infectious diseases as well as certain types of cancer." Allicin, the sulfuric compound that gives onions and shallots their pungent smell, as well as other antioxidant compounds are to thank for those protective benefits. (To learn more about the potential cancer-fighting properties of alliums, see our article 6 Cancer-Fighting Foods to Add to Your Diet.)

Most recipes may only call for one shallot for the whole dish, so it's not as if your health will be immediately boosted after eating a small amount. But the more foods you eat from the allium family, the more benefits you'll receive, giving you reason to add these flavorful veggies to your shopping list every week.

How to Cook Shallots and Shallot Recipes

Adding raw shallots to salads, using them minced in salad dressing, pickling them, caramelizing them, frying them, roasting them on their own or with other vegetables and using them in béarnaise sauce (one of their main claims to fame) are just a few ways to use these versatile vegetables. Here are some recipes that feature shallots to add to your repertoire.

Steamed Green Beans with Rosemary-Garlic Vinaigrette & Fried Shallots: Fried shallots are a wonderful topping for any type of vegetable (and meat, fish and beans, for that matter). Use this recipe (pictured above) as inspiration.

Parmesan-Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts: Shallots are roasted right along with Brussels sprouts in this easy side dish. You can add shallots to almost any pan of veggies you are roasting—just keep in mind that sliced shallots burn easily, so you might need to add them after the other vegetables have cooked for awhile.

Eggplant-Shallot Stew: Shallots co-star with eggplant in this satisfying vegetarian stew, which would work well as a partner for naan bread or rice. The vegetables are first briefly cooked on high heat, then simmered in either lime juice or tamarind concentrate under they're tender enough to be mashed.

Shallot Subsitutes

Shallots are well worth seeking out, but if you can't find them and you're looking for a shallot substitute, regular onions will work in most dishes. You can also swap garlic in for shallots in some recipes, such as salad dressings, but keep in mind that garlic has a much stronger flavor, so you'll want to cut back on the amount you use—start with a little and build until you get your desired result. And feel free to try swapping in shallots in your favorite dishes that call for onions, as well.

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