We have just watched a Miles Davis documentary on Netflix. What an extraordinary character he was! Then Philippe got back to his guitar and I into my shallots article.
This is how it begins. The words start chirping in your head and you say I should write about something. It never happened to me that way before; now it does. I am very fond of it. This happens when you really embrace what you do, what stands out to you in life. To me that is food, anything around food.
The layers of a name?
The word shallot originally comes from a coastal city in Israel called Ascalon. This Mediterranean city was ruled by Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Hasmoneans, the Romans, the Persians, the Arabs and the Crusaders and in the late 15th century by the Ottoman Empire. The name shallot is used in many cuisines -- Persian, French, and in Australia the word often refers to scallion or green onion.
What is a shallot?
Shallots are a member of the allium family, along with onions - Chinese, Vidalia, white, yellow, and sweet onions, scallions, leeks, chives and garlic and so on. The flavor of the shallot is sweeter, milder, younger and more refined than regular onions. Substituting it in your recipe with onions might not give the same taste to your dish. If you have some vinegar and sugar in your recipe and you need onions, I recommend using shallots as a substitute for onions. I cook glazed carrots that way.
Shallots grow in clusters more like garlic at the leaf base. They have finer layers and contain less water than onions. Shallots have a copper, reddish or grey skin. When you peel a shallot, you find that they have three to six cloves or bulbs — like garlic.
Shallots come in many different shapes and colors. The largest ones of all are banana shallots. They have a smooth brown skin, taste milder than other shallots and are easy to peel.
What type of shallots do we get from markets?
In southern France, mostly grey shallots are grown. French Red and Dutch brown shallots are the most common varieties sold commercially. The French ones, with their pink purplish flesh are the strongest tasting shallots. Dutch brown shallots have a pleasant and mild taste.
The Netherlands is a global player in supplying onions throughout the world. In fact, the Netherlands is the biggest exporter (not producer) of onions in general, and ahead of China, India, Mexico and USA.
According to the Mulder Onions website, “Dutch onions are cultivated with a volume of 1.3 million tonnes and 1 million tonnes exported, the onions are the most important product in the Dutch vegetable sector. No less than 95% of Dutch onions are exported to more than 130 countries worldwide. The proximity of the large European ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp and Vlissingen ensure that Dutch onions reach their destination within the shortest transit time possible. “
How to choose and store shallots
Choose firm shallots with no soft spots, damp or moldy patches. Brown shallots are the most common ones. Pink shallots have a crispy texture and their flavor is pungent.
Store shallots in a cool, dark and dry place with good air circulation. They can keep for several weeks.
Nutritional benefits of shallots
In comparison to other onions, shallots are a more concentrated source of protein, fiber, micro nutrients, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, folate and other B vitamins, and vitamins A and C. Shallots are a good source of powerful antioxidants and organosulfur compounds.
One of these compounds is allicin.
Allicin reduces cholesterol as well as stiffness of blood vessels. These compounds and antioxidants in shallots help cardiac health and blood circulation. They lower your risk of heart disease. Consumption of shallots can lower your fat and blood sugar.
How to add shallots to your diet
Shallots need to be cooked more gently than onions because they have finer layers and contain less water than onions. Here are some tips on how to prepare them:
· Shallots can be pickled like other onions or marinated with vinegar for salad.
· Shallots can be diced and eaten raw in salads, on top of the pizza
· Shallots can be roasted or barbecued and mixed with salads.
· You can use shallots as a flavor enhancement for pasta, noodles, rice, soup, vegetables, meat or tofu.
When the shallot is whole, it doesn’t have any effect on the nose or eyes. But watch out – like onions, once the bulb is chopped or crushed, it releases an enzyme that changes sulfuric substances into strong-smelling complexes that make you tear up!
They are, however, not as pungent as onions -- shallots are delicate and sweet.