Shallots widely vary in size from small to large, depending on the variety, and have an elongated, oblong shape with a rounded center, tapering to a point at both ends. The bulbs are encased in a dry and papery, thin skin that flakes when touched and ranges in color from copper, gold, pale pink, to red. When the papery layers are removed, multiple clusters of cloves are found divided into individually wrapped segments similar to garlic. Small Shallot varieties average 2 to 3 cloves, and larger varieties typically contain 3 to 6 cloves. The firm, dense, and semi-dry flesh is off-white to translucent with light purple or red rings. Shallots are aromatic with a complex blend of spicy, sweet, and pungent flavors. When raw, the cloves are crisp and astringent, and when cooked, they develop a delicate, sweet, and savory taste with flavors reminiscent of garlic.
Shallots are an excellent source of fiber, stimulating the digestive system, and a good source of the minerals iron, potassium, and magnesium. The bulbs also contain vitamins A and C, which are antioxidants that can help strengthen the immune system, and provide some calcium, zinc, vitamin E, selenium, and phosphorus. In Asia, Shallots are used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine as an ingredient to internally heat the body to induce detoxification and are also believed to help increase immunity against sickness.
Shallots are best suited for both raw and cooked applications such as roasting, sautéing, and grilling. When raw, the bulbs can be chopped and mixed into salads, topped on bruschetta, blended into sauces such as Béarnaise, minced into guacamole, and stirred into vinaigrettes. Shallots can often be substituted in recipes calling for onions and garlic and have a slightly milder and sweeter flavor profile. In addition to raw preparations, Shallots can be sautéed with meats or cooked vegetables, stirred into lentil-based stews, blended into curries, baked into casseroles, stir-fried with rice, or tossed with pasta. They can also be roasted and dipped in a mixture of Greek yogurt and olive oil. Shallots pair well with beets, tomatoes, mushrooms, green beans, spinach, garlic, capers, meats such as poultry, beef, and pork, fish, baked oysters, cheeses such as parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar, and manchego, herbs such as parsley, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, and mint, and beer. The bulbs will keep up to one month when stored in a cool, dry, and dark place.