Shallots (also known as Madras onions, small onions and sambhar onions) are very healthy. They are believed to have good cooling properties, ideal for the summer. In any case, I'm sure you will agree that they are extremely tasty! I agree they are very difficult to peel, but nowadays one can easily find peeled shallots at supermarkets.
Shallots are used quite liberally in Keralite and Tamilian cooking, especially in recipes originating around Coimbatore, Chettinad, etc. We would all have used shallots in sambhars and chutneys, but here is a rasam recipe I came across recently. It is extremely tasty, and seems to be a 'comfort food'... that is, it can be served to those who are unwell also, as it tastes very soothing and warm, and also helps cure common colds. Have it mixed with rice, or like a soup... it fits both roles!
Here is how to make it...
1. Soak a small lemon-sized ball of tamarind in a glass of water. Extract the pulp and keep aside.
2. Coarsely pound a little pepper, cumin and coriander seeds. You can vary the quantities of these according to your taste. Ideally, just pound them using a manual spice mill, else if using a mixer-grinder, just give it a twist or two... do not grind it finely as the whole texture and flavour will change.
3. Heat a tablespoon of ghee in a vessel, season mustard, asafoetida and two red chillies. Then, fry the coarsely powdered spices till a good aroma comes.
4. Add 5-6 shallots, halved. Saute till a good aroma comes.
5. Add one chopped tomato, the tamarind pulp and salt. Boil till the onions and tomatoes are soft.
6. Add 1 to 1-1/2 glasses of water (this depends how much the tamarind pulp has already reduced), simmer the stove and heat till the rasam starts foaming on top.
As a variation, you can dilute 1/2 cup of cooked and mashed tuar dal with 1 cup of water and add this to the rasam instead of plain water. This tastes better.)
7. Remove from fire, add one tablespoon of neem flowers fried in ghee.
8. Garnish with curry leaves and serve hot.
Alternatively, you can add shallots to any other rasam too, by cooking it along with the tomatoes or with the dal.