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How to make & use quick pickled red onions

The image shows quick pickled red onions in glass containers. The vibrant pink colour of the onions show they have been pickled with a vinegar-based brine. This type of pickled onion is often used as a topping or condiment in various dishes in many cuisines for a tangy and slightly sweet flavour.

With a blend of sweet, sour, and optional spicy notes, quick pickled red onions are incredibly versatile, fitting seamlessly into cuisines ranging from Mexican to Eastern European. Whether you’re topping a falafel wrap, accenting green beans on crostini or simply looking to elevate your favourite BBQ dish, these onions are a must in your culinary toolkit. Read how to make & use quick pickled red onions with the cuisine guide suggestions below.

Like many of my recipes, consider this as a template or starting point for your creativity. Change and adapt the recipe to suit your pantry and tastes. If you find a 50/50 water to acidic liquid ratio too tangy, start with 25/75 mix, just remember to taste and record your trials as you go.

How to make quick pickled red onions

Ingredients

  • 2-3 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup citrus juice or your favourite vinegar, suggestions below
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar or sweetener of choice
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • Optional spices – see the “how to use” cuisine guide below

Method

In a small saucepan, combine the acid, water, sugar and salt. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring until the sugar and salt are fully dissolved. Add your chosen spices and lower the heat to just keep warm, not reduce.

Peel, then half the onions root to tip and thinly slice the red onion, or use a mandoline to cut rings.

Place the sliced onions in a clean, heat-proof jar and pour over the brine, make sure that it covers the onions and they are fully submerged. Let the jar cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate.

Marinate for at least 1 hour before using. They will develop more flavour and colour the longer they sit and can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.


How to use quick pickled red onions

Decide on the type of cuisine you want your pickled red onions to pair with and choose your acid component and spices to suit.

Mexican

  • 2-3 red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh lime juice or lemon juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons agave syrup or sweetener of choice
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, sliced or diced for optional heat

Tacos: Adds a tangy, crunchy contrast to the rich and savoury fillings like my favourite fish (less) tacos.

Tostadas: Provides a sharp, refreshing bite that balances the creamy toppings such as an avocado whip or a soy sour cream.

Grilled Corn: Offers a zesty component that complements the sweet charred flavour of char grilled corn.


Middle Eastern Cuisine

A collage featuring three Middle Eastern dishes: top left shows a plate of falafel balls on a bed of creamy hummus, with stacks of flatbreads in the background; top right displays a platter of grilled kofta skewers accompanied by a bowl of tzatziki sauce and a salad with pickled onions; bottom right features a bowl of moutabel (smoky eggplant dip) garnished with pomegranate seeds and fresh herbs, alongside a serving of flatbreads and olives
  • 2-3 red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh lime juice or lemon
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 2 bay leaves

Falafel: Complements the crispy falafel with a burst of acidity.

Kofte: Enhances the savoury, hearty lentil and walnut kofte with a bright, pickled flavour.

Meze Platters: Adds variety and a pop of colour to the assortment of dips, hummus Moutabel, Mutabal or even Moutabbal or cooling tzatziki.


Scandinavian Cuisine

  • 2-3 red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup white or white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon dill seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh dill
  • 5-6 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves

Smørrebrød: These open-faced sandwiches are a staple. Pickled red onions add a zesty contrast to the rich and savoury ingredients.

Vegan Smoked carrot Pâté: This plant-based Scandinavian dish of smoked carrot pâté can be garnished with pickled red onions to provide a sharp, acidic counterpoint and enhancing its flavour.

Potato Salad: Scandinavian-style potato salads, often made with a light vinaigrette or sour cream, I love my potato salad light and packed with flavour, the addition of pickled red onions, adding a burst of flavour and crunch.

Fish Tacos: While not traditional, taco Friday is a Scandinavian thing. Add a Scandinavian twist to fish(less) with a creamy dressing and a simple slaw and some red pickled onions, create a fusion dish that highlights Nordic flavours.


Eastern European Cuisine

Borscht: Provides a tangy garnish that contrasts with the earthy flavours of the beet soup.

Pierogi: Adds a crunchy, acidic element that balances the richness of these stuffed dumplings.

Salads: Enhances traditional salads with an extra layer of flavour.

Sandwiches: Like in Scandinavia, red pickled onions are perfect for adding a zing to various open-faced sandwiches, common in Eastern European cuisine.


American Cuisine

Burgers and Hot Dogs: Adds a tangy crunch that cuts through the fattiness of the meat.

BBQ Dishes: Balances the smoky, sweet flavours with a bright, acidic note.

Salads: Lends a zesty twist to coleslaw, sweet potato salad, or green salads.

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