Shallots: The Fancy Vegetable
If you are peruser of recipes you have undoubtedly come across the term shallots. Shallots are often in dishes that are savory and lean towards the gourmet and fancy side of the culinary spectrum. They are subtle in flavor and add just the right note to enhance or bring out the flavor of other fine foods.
What exactly is a shallot?
Shallots are a member of the Liliaceae family (Lily family), in the genus Allium L. (onion), but they aren’t lilies or onions, although they’re obviously related to those two, and garlic as well. The shallot (Allium cepa var. aggregatum) is a mild flavored bulb with a taste crossed between garlic and onion. While they most likely originated in Central or Southwest Asia, the shallot went on to travel from there to India and the eastern Mediterranean. There are now several common species of shallots, with certain varieties associated with countries such as Germany, France, Poland, and the USA.
Shallots are begun as seeds or bulbs (sets) planted in a sunny spot in the garden in early spring or late autumn. When planted, shallots shouldn’t be crowded, as this can invite disease such as mildews. Instead plant 5” apart and thin when needed to allow for proper air circulation.
Before planting the soil needs to be prepared properly. Shallots need well drained, loose soil. Creating raised ridges and planting your shallots no deeper than 3”, will help keep them from sitting in water, which can prevent various forms of rot.
Too much growth in the tops of shallots and too little growth in the bulbs can be caused by overfertilized soil. Therefore, don’t add fertilizer to your garden soil when planting shallots. Refraining from this will also lower the probability of worms attacking the roots during the late spring. You can however incorporate wood ash to add a bit of nutrient content and control wilt and worms. Just be careful though, as this can raise soil pH and shallots prefer pH ranges between 5-7.
Once you get your plants growing watch for thrips. These small sucking insects will damage your shallot crop. If you find you have them, try to invite predatory insects into your garden such as ladybugs or assassin bugs. Also, prior to inviting predatory insects in, you can reduce the thrip population by using blue sticky traps. Just make the traps contain no harmful chemicals and don’t spray any insecticides. These can damage beneficial fauna, leave residues, and many sprays are registered for use on onions but not shallots.
While shallots need water as they grow, you will need to reduce moisture a day or 2 before harvesting. As you see the tops of the shallots popping from the ground about 70-90 days from planting, allow the soil to dry a bit and then careful pick your shallots. Once picked store your shallots in a cool, dry place that isn’t subject to high humidity or large fluxes in temperatures.
The soft delicious taste of the shallot is reason enough to include this garden delight in your diet. However, the shallot also offers many nutritional benefits. One tablespoon (10 grams) of chopped fresh shallot offer 7 calories, 0 fat and protein, and 2 grams of carbohydrates. Shallots are an excellent source of vitamins A and B-6 and manganese. They also provide vitamins C and B-9 (folate) and potassium. Shallots also contain several antioxidant compounds, including quercetin, kaempferol, and various sulfuric antioxidants. One organosulfur compound shallots, and others of the Alum genus possess, is allicin. When fresh shallots are chopped or crushed the enzyme alliinase converts alliin into allicin, which is part of the shallots defense mechanism against pests and is also responsible for the aroma we detect. Allicin is nutritionally important to us because it can help regulate blood glucose levels, reduce cholesterol, fight cancer, and is also a natural antimicrobial agent, which helps boost our immunity.
You can incorporate shallots in your diet through a variety of recipes. Many recipes use the browning capabilities of shallots to enhance the flavor of dishes. Shallots caramelize well due to the natural glucose they contain. You can caramelize shallots by following this simple recipe:
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut lengthwise into thin slices
Heat oil in a small pan over medium heat
Add butter and shallots
Add salt and pepper to taste
Cook shallots until they begin to brown evenly
Turn heat down to low and continue to cook until soft (about 10 minutes)
Top grilled, roasted, or sautéed salmon, lamb, or prime beef and pork cuts with caramelized shallots to add that perfect finish.
If you want to try using shallots for more than their beautiful caramelization, try these recipes.
Fresh Herb and Shallot Salad
2 T red wine vinegar
1 T balsamic vinegar
5 shallots, peeled, crushed, and finely chopped
½ cup olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
½ teaspoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
½ teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
½ tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
Pinch or 2 crushed red pepper flakes
1 cucumber, coarsely chopped
Tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Fresh spinach leaves
½ cup black olives (optional)
6 oz. feta (optional)
Place shallots in a large bowl
Pour vinegars over shallots and let sit for 10 minutes
Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss to coat
Baked Salmon with Fresh Shallots, Leeks, and Tarragon
6 – 6oz. salmon fillets (preferably wild caught sockeye)
4 shallots, peeled, crushed, and finely chopped
1 bunch leeks, thinly sliced
6 T fresh tarragon
1 cup white wine
Salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425° F
In a baking dish arrange leeks and shallots into 4 piles
Place salmon fillets on top of piles, skin side down
Pour wine around salmon and shallot-leek piles
Sprinkle salmon with tarragon, salt, and pepper
Bake salmon until firm and no longer translucent. About 12-15 minutes
Salmon should be moist and flake readily
Gently place salmon, shallots, and leeks onto serving plates
Spoon some of the wine from the baking dish over the salmon
Serve immediately (and maybe with the salad!)
Fancy Yourself with Shallots
Shallots, perhaps the posh, yet less well-known member of the onion genus, is a delight to have in the garden and in your cooking repertoire. The wonderful subtle flavor of this versatile vegetable makes it a marvel to have in the kitchen to make your culinary creations and your health shine. So, plant yourself a crop of shallots this spring or autumn and enjoy all the shallot has to offer.
Choose My Plate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-supertracker
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. 2017. Queensland Government. Shallot pests and diseases. https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/plants/fruit-and-vegetables/vegetables/other-vegetable-crops/shallot-pests-and-diseases
Natural Resource Conservation Service. US Department of Agriculture. Classification for Kingdom Plantae. https://plants.usda.gov/java/
University of Maryland Extension. February 19, 2014. University of Maryland. Shallots. https://extension.umd.edu/learn/shallots