Here at That Salad Lady, hardly any of our bowl recipes are built without onions – and we love them every which way. Whether white or yellow, green or red, raw or cooked, the pleasantly pungent flavors and unique textures of onions can bring practically any dish to life. We especially love the mild, subtle sweetness and good bite red onions bring to the bowl. As if they couldn’t get any better, along comes pickled red onions for a next-level flavor experience.
If you’ve never had pickled red onions before, you’re in for a real treat! Best of all, you don’t need any specialized equipment or canning supplies to make them. With That Salad Lady’s easy peasy quick pickling method all you’ll need is a jar and a small saucepan, a couple of red onions, some salt, a few natural flavor enhancers and a little bit of time. You’ll never see red onions the same way again. Even if you’re normally not a fan of onions, this recipe will convert you.
THE BALANCING ACT
Besides all the good flavor and texture onions bring to the bowl, like other allium vegetables they’re nutritional powerhouses. Along with high levels of vitamin C, onions themselves contain a dense cocktail of antioxidants known to lower heart disease risk, reduce inflammation and even protect against various cancers. Of all onions, the red ones house the most antioxidants making them the most powerful disease fighters – and they’re the best for pickling too.
Now, while it goes without saying that adding red onions to your diet is a great health move, we’ll be the first to admit that, as with all onions, their classic sharp stench can leave both you and your home smelling not so fresh. Luckily, there are some ways to get around that, one of which is to simmer a little vinegar on the stovetop. And it just so happens that our quick pickling method calls for doing just that, for real.
Our recipe specifically calls for preparing a brine largely comprised of vinegar, salt and maple syrup, which totally mellows out the onion stench, leaving you with a wholesome, tasty topper that’s much less sharp, delightfully tangy and slightly sweet.
So, let’s talk more about what’s in our easy peasy quick pickled red onions recipe and why.
Perfectly Fresh Red Onions
We’ve already talked a lot about onions, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention that they boast strong smells and flavors for good reason. It’s all due to the various sulfur-containing compounds they contain. These compounds are housed in all types of allium vegetables including garlic. In addition to giving onions and other alliums their powerful cancer-fighting potential, these compounds support healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels too.
Despite their many benefits, we do realize that some people just don’t eat onions. But, if you’ve come this far, you’re probably open to the idea of trying them in a different way. However, if we haven’t convinced you that onions are worth eating or if your body genuinely can’t tolerate them, you can easily replace them with cruciferous vegetables like red cabbage and Brussel sprouts and get similar benefits. You can even use our recipe to quick pickle these crucifers.
A Savory and Tangy Brine
Our quick pickling method calls for preparing a simple brine for the red onions (see recipe card). As we’ve already mentioned, the brine is largely comprised of vinegar and salt. We also include pure maple syrup for gentle sweetness and a smidge of crushed red pepper flakes for added zing and a bit of heat. This ingredient combination produces lots of rich, savory flavor.
The full recipe includes a combination of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and distilled white vinegar. Compared to apple cider vinegar, white vinegar is more acidic, making it great for pickling. Generally speaking, the higher the acidity, the longer the onions will last. Though you can just stick with white vinegar if it’s easier, the apple cider vinegar comes with additional benefits, mainly due to the fruit it contains (study up in our Nutrition Glossary to learn more).
Then there’s the salt, which you might be a little bit leery about using. It is indeed a nutritional boogeyman, as for some, too much can raise blood pressure levels. However, brines need salt to work. You can’t make a brine without using it. Fortunately, the added salt doesn’t cancel out any of the nutrients onions contain. In addition, our brine includes water to dilute the salt. But if you’re salt sensitive or have a related health condition, we suggest adding salt to taste.
Additional Flavor Enhancers
For the finish, we keep it nice and simple with freshly minced garlic and black peppercorns. With its savory, aromatic qualities, garlic really brings the recipe to life. As both an allium vegetable and an herb, garlic contains many unique phytonutrients that possess powerful antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. While you can use jarred minced garlic as a “shortcut,” we don’t recommend doing this, as jarred versions tend to have “off” flavors.
Finally, there are peppercorns, which are an ultimate flavor-boosting ingredient due to the gentle heat they slowly infuse into the onions. If you don’t have peppercorns on hand, you can also use ground black pepper. Now, you’re certainly not limited to these flavor enhancers. If you have a good spice rack, feel free to experiment. From thyme and marjoram to cardamom and bay leaves, there are plenty more flavors you can add to the jar.
GET YOUR CHOP ON
In preparation for pickling, you’ll first have to thinly slice the red onions. You can do this using either a mandoline slicer (pictured below) or a quality chef’s knife. After slicing, set the onions aside until you’re ready to layer your mason jar.
A wee bit of cooking is required for the brine. In a small saucepan, simply combine the vinegars and water with salt, maple syrup and red pepper flakes, stir the mixture well and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat (about 3-5 minutes).
For convenience’s sake you can also combine all the ingredients in a microwave-safe dish and heat them in your microwave.
Once you’ve sliced up the onions and heated the brine, it’s time to combine all the ingredients in your mason jar. Start by adding the sliced onions and then add the peppercorns and minced garlic along with any additional flavor enhancers you choose to use. From there, simply pour in the heated brine, secure the lid and shake the jar until everything is completely submerged. You may have to use a wooden spoon to press down and fully submerge all the layers.
The final step is to marinate the onions by letting the finished mixture sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. After the 30-minute mark you can use the finished pickled red onions immediately or refrigerate them for later use. You’ll actually get even better flavor after refrigerating them for an hour or so.
The Versatility of Pickled Red Onions
With their rich and savory, pleasantly tangy and slightly sweet flavors, these quick pickled red onions make the perfect topper for salad bowls, tacos, sandwiches and much more. Try them in our Light and Easy Cucumber Tomato Salad, No-Cook Chickpea Salad, Fresh and Simple Israeli Salad, Healthy Taco Salad or Healthy Burger Salad. The recipe itself makes up to eight delicious servings. In an airtight jar, leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to three weeks.
SHOW US YOUR WORK
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This information is provided as a courtesy and is only an estimate. Please review our full disclaimer to get a clear understanding of the nutrition and health information and resources presented and written on our website.