Sunday, September 13, 2009

Will the real shallot please step forward

At the University District farmers' market, a small container of shallots(left) caught my eye at Grouse Mountain Farm. Two small bags of large dirty garlic-like cloves sat like lonely vagabonds. The two bags were all Liz Eggers had for sale. The sign in front said "Grey Shallots, $5 a bag. "They don't look like shallots," I'd said.
"Those are true shallots," Liz said. "Most people don't sell the real ones, just the hybrids, but these are the real thing."
I picked up the bag and tried to imagine their flavor. "You don't need many to flavor the dish," she'd said. Cooking them solo, so you could taste them is best. I bought a bag, took it home and peeled and sliced them, a bit tedious. I sauteed it until it was crispy like my friend Patty does. We cooked baby bok choy and topped them with crispy shallots. The sweet crispy shallots complimented the slightly bitter greens. They had the kind of flavor I love to recall when I'm in a blah mood.
Though some farmers grow shallots in the Northwest, it's one vegetable that I completely forgot to include in my list of produce grown in the Northwest in my book Local Vegetarian Cooking ( I couldn't believe I'd discovered an omission now, before it's even been printed, but too late to add anything. All you true shallot growers, I'm sorry. Maybe I was an onions snob who hadn't really considered shallots much more than an onions-shallot cross.
To learn more about shallots, I consulted two reference books. The first, The Food Lovers Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst, says there are two types of shallots "the Jersey shallot or 'false' shallot, [the larger of the two on the book page above] and the more stubtly flavored 'true' shallot." In the Essential Reference Vegetables From Amaranth to Zucchini," Elizabeth Schneider says, "The esteemed gray shallot, also bulb propagated, and smaller and stronger than others, is a separate species little known outside France." Sheneider goes on to say shallots probably originated in Central Asia, then travled to India before arriving in the Mediterranean. I couldn't wait to tell Liz I'd done my homework. I saved part of my purchase and I'd plan to plant them soon because this is the time of year to plant garlic and shallots.
While looking for gardening tools at Wights ( for some gardening tools when I found a handout on how to grow garlic. I took it, thinking I'd use the information and when I got home, I turned the handout over and it said: "How to Grow Shallots and Their Relatives." Serendipity. Liz is brining me a few more shallots to plant next week. Maybe next summer's harvest season I'll be harvesting the real thing--gray shallots from Grouse Mountain Farm.

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