I often run into the “red onion dilema” when making a recipe. You see, a few slivers of fresh red onion can truly transform a recipe (see Thai Curry Vegetable Soup and Slow Cooker Coconut Curry Lentils) and there’s no substitution that is really quite like it. BUT I can rarely find a red onion that is smaller than a softball and I usually only need 1/4 or less of it for a recipe. I hate to waste the rest of the onion, especially since they’re usually significantly more expensive than other onions. So, what/s a girl to do? MAKE PICKLED RED ONIONS! :D
Pickled red onions are the perfect way to use up your leftover red onions. You can make small batches, they last for 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator, and they’re AWESOME on tacos, sandwiches, salads, pizza, nachos, and lots of other things. Instead of thinking of these pickled red onions as a substitute for fresh red onions in recipe, think of them as a non-spicy alternative to pickled jalapeño. That tangy pickled flavor tastes great anywhere you’d normally use a pickled jalapeño.
There are a million different ways to make pickled red onions, so I’ve provided a very basic version below. As you begin to make them more often, you can start to tweak the flavors to match your preferences. Experiment with the seasonings and spices by adding ingredients like bay leaf, star anise, or red pepper. Whatever you decide to add to your pickled red onions, the flavor only gets better as they chill in the refrigerator.
How to: Pickled Red Onions
- 1.5 cups sliced red onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 3 Tbsp white sugar
- 1.5 Tbsp salt
- ½ tsp peppercorns
- 1 cup white vinegar
- Thinly slice the red onion and peel the garlic. Place the onion and garlic in a large glass or ceramic bowl.
- Add the sugar, salt, and peppercorns to a small sauce pot. Add the vinegar and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Place a lid on the pot and bring the mixture up to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Once boiling, pour the vinegar over the sliced onion and garlic*. Press the onion down so all the pieces are submerged, then let the mixture cool to room temperature.
- Once cool, use the onions immediately or transfer the onions and all the brine to a lidded non-reactive container (glass, ceramic, or plastic) for storage in the refrigerator. The onions can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.
(Tacos made with Chili Rubbed Pulled Pork, fresh jalapeño, pickled red onion, and feta.)
Step by Step Photos
Start by thinly slicing the red onion (I used about 3/4 of an onion, or 1.5 cups once sliced) and peeling one clove of garlic. I also used 1/2 tsp peppercorns.
I didn’t have a separate jar of peppercorns, so I just used a few peppercorns from my pepper grinder.
Place 3 Tbsp white sugar, 1.5 Tbsp salt, and 1/2 tsp peppercorns into a small sauce pot.
Add 1 cup white vinegar and stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. If it doesn’t all dissolve, it will once the vinegar gets hot. Place a lid on the sauce pot and bring the vinegar up to a boil over medium-high heat.
Place the sliced onion and garlic in a glass or ceramic bowl (something not metal and heat resistant) and pour the boiling vinegar over top. Press the onions down so that they are all submerged, then let them cool to room temperature. (This method keeps the onions fairly crunchy. If you want soft onions, add the onions and garlic to the boiling vinegar and let them boil for 1-2 minutes before transferring to a non-metal container to cool.)
As they cool the onions turn the most brilliant magenta color! Transfer the onions and the brine to a non-reactive container (glass, ceramic, or plastic) with a lid for storage in the refrigerator. You can use the onions right away, but they get even better with time in the refrigerator!
Keep the onions submerged in the brine while they’re in the refrigerator and they’ll last 3-4 weeks… if you don’t eat them all by then. ;)