shallots, cut
Photo by Leslie Kelly

I'm trying to like salads, a friend confessed, but greens tossed in bottled dressing left her cold. No prob, let me introduce you to my quick salad dressing hack that will turn boring into brilliant. It starts with shallots.

A member of the onion family, these alliums are small, but potent. They're prized by chefs, but are one of those ingredients that baffle home cooks. It took me a long time to warm up to them, especially because they're not exactly cheap (usually around $4 a pound), and they're a bit of a pain to prep. Trying to remove the paper thin outer layer without taking the tender flesh you want to use can be as challenging as peeling hard-boiled eggs. Once you get the hang of both, though, you're golden. (For the shallots, I cut off the root end and the top and then run the tip of a knife from top to bottom and peel. On the hard-boiled eggs front, I'm still stumped, experiencing success and failure, sometimes with the same batch!)

The powerful flavor of shallots — one that might remind you of garlic — is typically too strong to eat raw. It needs to be tamed, but let's not take the entire edge off. I'm a big fan of quick pickling, especially veggies, and after much trial and error, I finally hit on the right formula for this shallots salad dressing hack.

Just 3 Easy Prep Steps

  • Slice thin and place shallots in a jar.
  • Doesn't really matter what size jar; what matters is step two: adding the correct ratio of vinegar and water (half vinegar, half boiling water). I love using sherry vinegar because it has a deep, complex quality, but have also used apple cider vinegar and white wine vinegar.
  • Add the liquid, followed by the lid and then step three, in which the jar gets a vigorous shake. That helps break the slices into rings that will eventually end up making your salad a superstar.
top-down view of shallot slices in a jar
Quick pickled shallots. Photo by Leslie Kelly
| Credit: Leslie Kelly

Finishing Touches

That foundation can go straight from the jar to the salad bowl, if you're a fan of free-styling. I like winging it, so for a salad for two, I add a generous forkful of shallots, a splash of the diluted vinegar and a couple of glugs of olive oil, plus a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Toss, taste, make any adjustments, and serve. It's so easy and so tasty. It's also easy to be creative and add onto. A tablespoon of chutney and half a chopped apple takes it in a sweeter direction. A few drops of fish sauce and some shredded Parm, and you've got a pseudo-Caesar.

If you're more comfortable with a measuring cup in hand, start with 1/4 cup of the diluted vinegar, 2 tablespoons quick pickled shallots and 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil for a medium size salad, meant to serve four. The shallots last for up to a month in the fridge, but I bet the jar will be empty long before that because you'll be eating more salads.