What to Use When You Can’t Find Shallots
Picture this: You’re at the grocery store, with your ingredient list in hand, only to find that they’re completely out of shallots! Before you give up and order takeout, rest assured that there are plenty of easy-to-find shallot substitutes you can swap in at the last minute. While shallots make a great addition to recipes like chickpea casserole with lemon, herbs, and shallots and mustard and wine-braised chicken thighs with mushroom and shallots, there are several similar substitutes that can work in its place.
What Are Shallots? Are They the Same as Onions?
While both are alliums, shallots are technically an offshoot of the well-known onion. Shallots, while still savory, have a milder, sweeter flavor than traditional onions and are nicely suited to be cooked in sauces, pastas, and quiches as well as served raw in salads.
The Best Shallot Substitutes
1. Sweet Onions (Vidalia, Walla Walla, Maui)
A grocery-store staple, sweet onions like the Vidalia can usually be substituted for shallots, if you keep a few factors in mind. Although they are lower in sulfur than other varieties, sweet onions typically have a more pungent, pronounced flavor than shallots, along with a more resilient texture. To mimic the flavor and texture of shallots, try finely chopping sweet onions and cooking them down more when using them in place of shallots.
In general, you can expect to use 1 small onion for every 3 small shallots (this depends on the type of onion you use, the strength of its flavor, and your own personal taste preference).
2. Yellow Onions (Spanish)
The humble yellow onion is another go-to when shallots are out of stock. It’s one of the most common varieties available in the grocery store. This allium is quite comparable in taste and texture to shallots, and can easily be subbed in for shallot in recipes that call for cooking it. Use 1 small yellow onion in place of 2 to 3 small shallots.
If you can, try to find a Spanish onion, as these have a particularly mild flavor profile and sweeter taste compared to other onion varieties.
3. White Onions
White onions have a stronger flavor profile than sweet and yellow onions, but are still mild enough to use as a shallot substitute. We suggest finely chopping the white onion and cooking it a bit longer than you would a shallot to obtain a similar flavor. You can use 1 small white onion for every 3 small shallots.
4. Red Onions
Red onions may look the most like shallots, but they have a stronger flavor when cooked, so we recommend using sweet, yellow, or white onions in place of cooked shallots.
However, when it comes to substituting raw shallots, red onions work well served in salads or as a garnish, although they should be used more sparingly than shallots to keep their flavor from becoming overpowering.
5. Cipollini Onions
Within the white and yellow onion families, there are a few specific varieties that work well as shallot substitutes. Cipollini onions, which in Italian translate to “little onion,” are closer in size to shallots and have a similar sweetness that works well in recipes that call for caramelizing and roasting. Try using 2 cipollini onions for every 1 shallot in a recipe.
6. Pearl Onions
Pearl onions are another small, sweet variety that work as a shallot substitute in soups and casseroles, although it’s important to note that they are harder to peel than cipollini onions. Use 2 pearl onions for every 1 shallot in a recipe.
7. Scallions (Green Onions)
Scallions — also referred to as green onions — are young onions that are harvested before full maturity, giving them a sweeter, milder flavor similar to that of shallots. They make a good substitute for both cooked and raw shallot recipes — especially when sprinkled atop a dish as a finisher. You can use both the white bulb, which most closely mimics the flavor of a shallot, and the green stalk (although it has a grassier taste).
Another allium variety that will work as a shallot substitute is the versatile leek, which boasts a sweeter, milder flavor profile similar to shallots. To use a leek, thoroughly rinse it first, then thinly slice the white and light green parts. The tougher dark green section of the leek isn’t a great textural substitute for shallots, but you can incorporate them for additional flavor — especially in soup recipes.
10. Onion Powder and Minced Dried Onion
If you’re really low on groceries but want to use what you’ve got, don’t forget to check your spice drawer! Onion powder and dried onions can work as shelf-stable substitutes for shallots, although you’ll want to use them in lesser quantities, as dried spices have a more concentrated flavor. Start with 1 teaspoon onion powder or minced dried onion for each shallot a recipe calls for. From there, you can decide if the recipe needs more of an onion-y flavor.
When to Skip Substitutes
While most of the above alliums will serve as perfectly serviceable shallot substitutes, if a recipe calls for a significant amount of shallots, we recommend waiting until you can get your hands on the real thing, so as not to alter the overall flavor profile of the dish too much. But if you need a bit of allium flavor — it’s all in the same genus!