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Shallot is a botanical variety belonging to the onion or Allium cepa family. The genus Allium, which includes varieties of onions, garlic as well as shallots, has now been classified as part of the plant family Amaryllidaceae, though formerly it was considered to belong to another separate family, Alliaceae.

History and Etymology

It is thought that shallots probably originated somewhere in Central or Southeast Asia gradually making its way to India and then to Eastern Mediterranean soils. The name shallot is derived from ‘Ashkelon’, the ancient Philistine city where shallots are believed to have emerged from. Along the course of its journeys, it picked up a number of local names in different languages. Interestingly, in Australia it is referred to as ‘eschalot’ while the term shallot refers to scallions.

Similar to garlic, shallots grow in clusters consisting of a central head that bears multiple cloves. The skin colour is usually some shade of red or pink with a whitish to pink flesh.

Culinary Uses

Shallots are a very versatile food ingredient and offer innumerable possibilities with respect to their methods of preparation. They may be used both in fresh cooking as well as in pickling processes. Finely sliced and deep-fried shallots are used as a garnish over biryanis or as a condiment in traditional Asian cuisine, very often served with porridge. Being a variety of onion, shallots taste similar to a common onion, but impart a milder, less pungent flavour. Much like onions, when sliced, raw shallots release irritants that stimulate the tear ducts, resulting in production of tears.

Shallots seem to possess more flavonoids and phenols as compared to other group members of the onion genus.

In India and Southeast Asia

In many Indian cuisines, the distinction between varieties of onions and shallots is often found to be quite weak; many a times, larger varieties of shallots are often confused with the smaller varieties of red onions and used interchangeably.

In South India however, there is a marked distinction with the tiny red shallots typically used in certain dishes such as-

· a special sambar i.e. a lentil-based gravy using “chinna venagayam” or “sambar vengayam” as they are popularly known in Tamil Nadu and

· “Ulli Theeyal” a strong spicy and sour roasted coconut gravy with tiny shallots made in Kerala

In Nepal, shallots are sometimes used as an ingredient in the “momos” or steamed dumplings.

In Iran grated shallots mixed with thick yoghurt is served as a common dip along with kebabs and grilled meats. A sour Iranian specialty dish named ‘torshi’ includes a number of vegetables including shallots pickled with vinegar.

Being popular as an ingredient key to most Southeast Asian cuisines, including Vietnamese, Cambodian, Malaysian, Indonesian and Thai, shallots enjoy a special position of pride in these culinary traditions. Very often used as an elementary ingredient in most dishes, these are known to enhance the flavour of many a dish including the fried rice and noodle variants. Raw shallots may also find themselves pickled with cucumbers in mild vinegar or brine. Crispy shallot chips are commonly used in southern Chinese foods. In Indonesia, pickled shallots are sometimes added to certain traditional foods; with the belief that the sourness of the pickles is thought to stimulate one's appetite.

Shallots form part of a number of Gourmet dishes owing to their subtle sweet, distinctive garlic tinged flavour. Some of these are-

Olive and Herb Roasted Shallots

The simplest and most uncomplicated of recipes that deliver the full flavour of shallots involves simply roasting them in a skillet with some olive oil, seasoning with salt, pepper and lastly adding some fresh chopped parsley or cilantro. This could make for a perfect accompaniment to any dish owing to the mellow sweetness brought about when the shallots get caramelized.

In this form, they may be added to soups or dressings, sauces or curries, or even sprinkled over salad greens when still warm.

Chicken Breasts with Candied Shallots

Caramelized or candied fresh red shallots deliver a sweet twist to the well-accepted classic pairing of boneless chicken and shallots. Addition of the right amount of red wine keeps the dish from turning two sweet, and also helping prevent the skillet-seared chicken from drying up.

Shallots cooked in butter and little sugar is poured over the seasoned chicken breasts in another skillet. Red wine is added and the chicken is allowed to cook in this sauce flavoured by the shallots. The reduced liquid forms a rich glaze over the chicken. Similarly, lamb can be prepared with delectably caramelized shallot slices.

Nutritional Information

A tablespoon of chopped shallots provides-

  • ~ 7 calories
  • 1.7 g of carbohydrates and
  • 0.25 g of proteins
  • 33 mg of potassium, 6 mg of phosphorus, and 4 mg of calcium and
  • Some amount of Vitamin A and small amounts of other vitamins

Health Benefits

  1. Shallots are low in calories and have negligible fat content making it suitable for persons on a weight loss diet, diabetics and persons with cardiovascular problems too.
  2. Good source of Vitamin A, thus helps maintain healthy vision.
  3. Shallots are low in Sodium and high in Potassium making it beneficial for persons on a low-sodium diet or those who have blood pressure irregularities.