Last week, I had to share my delight and surprise in pulling fresh figs out of my basket of local, farm-fresh produce from Farmhouse Delivery. The batch I’ve just received carried with it not only surprise, but something of a riddle: What looks like husked garlic cloves on the outside but has layers, is tinged with purple, and makes you cry like an onion on the inside?
At first glance, I thought I’d scored a handful of heirloom garlic cloves, which have come my way before (and didn’t last more than a couple of days!). As I got ready for dinner that night, I pulled a few out and smashed them with the flat side of my knife, expecting to find that spicy, sticky garlic flesh under the husk. Instead, what I found were like tiny little red onions, striated and pungent with that eye-stinging perfume.
I’m no allium expert, and while I’d certainly heard of shallots and even enjoyed shallot vinegar and probably a few other of their forms before, I’d never got up-close-and-personal with them in the fresh. Shallots are like a wonderful mid-point between garlic and onions. They grow like garlic in small clove-shaped bundles fused at the tips, but once peeled, their appearance and flavor is like a very delicate onion.
A little research shows that their outer skin can be a number of shades, from a golden brown (as pictured) to a copper rose. Similarly, the flesh inside can show a greenish tint or as I found, a light purple. It’s best to choose firm bulbs with a papery husk, avoiding soft spots, mold spots, or the beginnings of a sprout.
I’ve often seen shallots pickled in vinegar, which makes a really nice condiment and also a nicely flavored base for salad dressings. You can do a number of other things with them as well—they’re great chopped raw in a batch of meatballs or slaw and can also be subbed for onion in a mirepoix (that cooked veggie combo that usually also includes carrot and celery and serves as the base for many soups and sauces). Fried shallots are a common garnish in Asian cuisine (think tiny onion rings!). Right now, I’ve got a few plunged into a jar of fridge pickles.
Now that I’ve solved this allium riddle, you can bet I’ll be incorporating fresh shallots into my kitchen arsenal. If you happen to come across these little beauties in your own local grocery or farmers’ market, hopefully you will too!