If you were to peek into my refrigerator any day of the week, any season of the year, you will surely find a jar of pickled red onions. This bright, jewel-toned condiment offers a zesty tang to countless dishes and adds a lovely splash of color as well. It takes about ten minutes to assemble and lasts for weeks in the refrigerator. What more can you want from a pickle?
There are countless uses for pickled onions. Tuck them into sandwiches, especially those with rich meats such as pulled pork; use them as a condiment to top tacos, bean dishes, and rich mayo-based salads such as potato or egg salad; toss them into lettuce salads, grain salads, and salads with sturdy greens such as kale. Their bright pink color, crunchy texture, and piquant flavor will perk up almost any dish. They're also perfect for serving with sandwich and salad buffets at parties.
I like to cut my onions into rings because I find the tangled loops are easier to scoop from the jar and I like the way they look. If you prefer, you can also cut the onions into half moons. They can be sliced paper thin or into rather thick, 1/2-inch slices, but I like to split the difference and slice them slightly thinner than 1/4-inch thick.
I only use red onions for my picked onions, but yellow or white onions can be used as well. Of course you won't get that lovely bright pink color, but if that's not a factor, then give it a try. Be sure to use a firm onion that is free of soft spots and blemishes.
I usually use a pale-colored vinegar such as rice vinegar or white wine vinegar. If I happen to be out, apple cider vinegar will do. Do not use the industrial white vinegar that comes in large gallon containers as it is too harsh-tasting
The sugar provides a nice balance to the salty vinegar brine, but you can leave it out if you are avoiding sugar. Honey or another sugar substitute might work, but start with less just be safe.
At their most basic, pickled red onions are simply sliced onions that have been covered in a mixture of vinegar, salt and sugar, and allowed to marinate. It's a lot of fun to add additional spices and to customized the mixture to match your dish. In the recipe below, I used my favorite mixture of flavorings, which includes fresh garlic and a chili for added oomph. You can leave them out or add additional selections such as a bay leaf, herbs like rosemary or oregano, orange peel, or cloves. Asian spices such as star anise, cinnamon, Szechuan pepper, and fresh ginger would also be a nice garnish for a rice-based stir fry or other Asian dish.
Over time, the onions will eventually turn a uniform shade of vivid pink. Be sure to store your pickled onions in a glass or ceramic container. Most metals will react with the vinegar and plastic will absorb the flavors. I like to use a pretty canning jar so I can just grab the onions from the refrigerator and plunk them on the table with no fuss.
Choose a firm, blemish-free onion. Red are best for their color.
Make Quick-Pickled Onions
Makes about 2 cups
What You Need
1 firm red onion, about 5 ounces
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup rice vinegar, white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1 small clove of garlic, halved
5 black peppercorns
5 allspice berries
3 small springs of thyme
1 small dried chili
Kettle for boiling water
Knife and cutting board
Sieve or colander
Clean jar or container
Slice the onions: Start 2 or 3 cups of water on to boil in a kettle. Peel and thinly slice the onion into approximately 1/4" moons. Peel and cut the garlic clove in half.
Dissolve the sugar and salt: In the container you will be using to store the onions, add the sugar, salt, vinegar and flavorings. Stir to dissolve.
Par-blanch the onions: Place the onions in the sieve and place the sieve in the sink. Slowly pour the boiling water over the onions and let them drain.
Add the onions to the jar: Add the onions to the jar and stir gently to evenly distribute the flavorings.
Store: The onions will be ready in about 30 minutes, but are better after a few hours. Store in the refrigerator. They will keep for several weeks but are best in the first week.
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(Images: Dana Velden)