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A great recipe is only as good when you’re using top-notch ingredients, no ifs and buts – that is what other dedicated cooks will lead you to believe. But what if you don’t have that one ingredient that will add the depth of flavor that you want just because it is unavailable or not in season at the moment? Take, for instance, a shallot. A what?!
Most beginner cooks will not distinguish a shallot from the regular run of the mill onion. Don’t worry though, they are in the same family, so you’re not far off. But what exactly is a shallot? And most importantly, if it is unavailable in the kitchen, will you be able to find good substitutes for it? Will you sacrifice your recipe’s quality if you add other ingredients as an alternative?
Read more below as we attempt to shed light on this fascinating ingredient that adds delicate flavors to savory dishes.
What Are Shallots?
Shallots are a close cousin to Allium cepa, or more popularly known as the common onion. It is believed to have originated in Central or Southwest Asia, ancient traders brought it to India and the eastern Mediterranean where it has become a popular and staple ingredient to the local delicacies. Also, a close relative to garlic, leeks or scallions and chives, it is however characterized by a distinct sweetness and acidity. Plus, it does have that hint of garlic sharpness and spiciness when added to your favorite dishes.
Healthwise, shallots an edible bulb from the Allium family is considered as nature’s natural antibiotic. The Allicin found in shallots can protect you from bacteria. Additional benefits are, it contains a lot of vitamins and minerals. A treasure trove of nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, Vitamins B1 and B6, manganese, copper, biotin, phosphorous, folic acid and more are present in every bulb of shallot.
So, not only does shallot tastes good and add flavor to your favorite dish, it is also good for your body. Also, shallots have less than 70 calories per serving! The bacteria-killing properties of shallots make it a great option for boosting immune-system function, avoiding common sickness plus alleviating symptoms of illnesses.
Onions have been adding flavors to our savory dishes for centuries. You probably have a couple of well-loved recipes utilizing this ingredient, like pasta sauces, scrumptious beef stews, and more! Most Mediterranean and Asian cuisines feature onions as one additive that is essential to complementing depth of flavor to dishes. However, can onions be a good substitute for shallots seeming that they come from the same family?
The answer is yes. Though, to an extent. Why? Because shallots have a milder and sweeter flavor profile, an onion could overpower a dish once it is added as a substitute. Here is where your portion preference comes in. We recommend using the sweeter yellow onion as opposed to the sharp and spicy red onion, especially if it is a raw or salad dish. Also, go easy on the amount that you will add if you will be using it as a garnish. Raw onions, are far more bitter and will be too harsh as a swap for shallots.
If you are looking for that sweeter flavor, use yellow onions instead of red or white. If you only have red, try a splash or two of balsamic vinegar when sautéing them. You can also caramelize the onions for that sweeter milder flavor.
Since garlic, onions, and shallots are practically in the same family, of course, it can act as a good substitute. However, even if garlic is cousins with shallots and onion, it has little flavor likeness with the two listed above. Once you taste a clove of garlic, especially if it is raw, it’ll scream out loud to your taste buds announcing its presence. To some, garlic is essential to everyday cooking, but for others, it is an ingredient that is barely tolerated.
Garlic as a shallot substitute can be done, but not on its own, and never burn them because once you do it gives off a strong charred bitter flavor to your dish. In a pinch, yes, plus add minced onions to get that same flavor profile with shallots especially when used as a sauté base or flavor enhancer. If you can tolerate the overpowering taste, you may add it raw, however, be mindful of the portions.
3. Leeks or Scallions
People will confuse these two ingredients, even though they may look the same and has a similar flavor profile, the major difference is the texture once they’re cooked. Scallions or some prefer to call it green onions is the smaller version of leeks. Great substitute for shallots when the recipe calls for it to be cooked very lightly like adding it in sautés and sauces because it does tend to be slimy and shrinks when cooked for a longer period of time.
Leeks might be a better substitute, it is characterized by larger stalks than the green onion, straight-sided rather than bulbous and have a milder, sweeter flavor. Leeks are a better substitute if the recipe calls for it to be added raw or as a garnish.
Other Acceptable Shallot Substitutes
Though the ingredients below did not make the cut, they can be passable shallot substitutes if you don’t have the ingredients listed above. Be mindful of the portions as it can make or break your dish.
- Fennel. This highly aromatic and flavorful herb tastes more of anise than an onion, it is, however, an acceptable substitute when you can’t find any other alternative. Cut up, diced or minced the white bulb can pass for a white onion.
- Chives. Though they do look more like the slimmer version of leeks and scallions, these green stalks taste more like garlic than onions. This alternative may be not what you are looking for flavor-wise but it is an acceptable substitute when there is no spicy swap available.
- Red Bell Peppers. Better suited if you are going for a sweeter and sharp spicy flavor, bell peppers are great substitutes. A pro-tip though, as the texture is too different from the soft and juicy shallots, finely chopped bell peppers is the best alternative.