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 10 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, ½-inch slices, but I like to split the difference and slice them slightly thinner than ¼-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.
Extra flavor or not
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 customize the mixture to match your dish. In the recipe below, I used my favorite mixture of flavorings, which includes fresh garlic and a chile for added oomph. You can leave them out or add selections such as a bay leaf, herbs like rosemary or oregano, an 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.