My cooking improved immensely after I started using shallots. In my opinion, shallots are the forgotten Allium, and it's a shame, because they add wonderful depth and sophistication to just about any savory dish.
These small, purple orbs cook more quickly than onions, and are sweeter and milder. The flavor is reminiscent of onion and garlic, but more delicate and urbane. They're used often in French cuisine, but are popular in Asian cuisine as well.
The writings of David Lebowitz, former Chez Panisse pastry chef and author of "The Sweet Life in Paris" inspired me to start using shallots regularly, and I'm forever grateful.
Plus, Alliums such as shallots, onions and garlic are healthful as well as delicious. You can find them in any grocery or independent market, and local shallots are available at Michigan farmers markets right now.
I slice them thinly and saute for soups, stews, pastas and vegetable dishes -- almost anywhere you'd normally use onion. You can also quick-fry them and top all manner of dishes with crispy shallots, a lovely gourmet touch.
If you've not used shallots in your cooking, I encourage you to give them a try.