Flavor-packed, pickled onions are ready in minutes and last for weeks. (Dana Velden)
The bright pink color, crunchy texture, and piquant flavor of pickled red onions perk up countless dishes. They’re also perfect for serving with sandwich and salad buffets at parties. They take about 10 minutes to assemble and lasts for weeks in the refrigerator. What more can you want from a pickle?
The onions: 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, half-inch slices, but I like to split the difference and slice them slightly thinner than quarter-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.
The vinegar: 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 sweetness: 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.
The flavorings: 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. Ideas include 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 nice for an Asian dish.
Storage: Over time, the onions will eventually turn a uniform shade of vivid pink. Be sure to store the 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.
1 firm red onion, about 5 ounces
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ 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
Start 2 or 3 cups of water on to boil in a kettle. Peel and thinly slice the onion into approximately ¼-inch moons. Peel and cut the garlic clove in half.
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 and stir gently to evenly distribute the flavorings.
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. Makes about 2 cups or 8 servings.
Per serving (per ¼ cup): 11 calories; 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat; 0 percent calories from fat); 3 g carbohydrates; 0 mg cholesterol; 146 mg sodium; 0.2 g protein; 0.3 g fiber.