Shallots from the Onion Family

Shallots from the Onion Family

(Allium ascalonicum) Purplish-red or brown-gold in color, these members of the onion family grow like garlic, with a number of single bulbs clustered together at the root. Shallots have a more intense flavor than onions, and are widely used in South East Asia. In Malaysia and Singapore, shallots are used in the spicy pounded base known as rempah.

Because the layers are so much finer than the layers of large onions, they are ideal for slicing and scattering over salads, or for slow, deep frying to make a crisp and taste garnish. For salads, it is preferred to use golden shallots which are sweeter and not as pungent as purple shallots. It is possible to buy shallots already fried, packed in tubs or plastic bags. Store these in the freezer to prevent the oil turning rancid. They are used to sprinkle over noodles, rice, soups and just about any dish that needs a flavor boost. Crisply fried shallots are wonderful for adding to peanut sauce in Malaysia and Singapore, and substituted for onions and garlic in a short-cut version of balachaung, a Burmese relish. Although using ready-fried shallots cut preparation time dramatically, it doesn't yield the bonus of shallot oil - delicious for flavoring vegetables or noodles.

A more unusual use of fried shallots is in some Asian sweet biscuits. A specialty pastry shop in Penang (Malaysia) makes the tambun biscuits with a filling made from sweetened mung bean paste with fried shallots mixed through. This sweet-salty combination is very popular and supply can hardly keep up with the demand, but the first bite sends conflicting signals to unwary taste buds.

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