Upon first thought, they might seem like the most insignificant, random kind of food. Some folks might call them nothing more than a superfluous condiment. Others might call them “trendy” and then roll their eyes. I mean, look, there is some truth here. They could be considered “trendy,” I suppose, in the way that anything in a Ball jar tends to be these days. They are a condiment, but deliberate, rather than superfluous. If you’ll allow me this brief moment in anthropomorphisization, I’ll just come right out and say it: pickled onions are smart. They know exactly how to enhance whatever you add them to and they never overpower the flavors underneath.
You might think of pickled onions as being pungent in taste especially. This version maintains the acidity you expect from the vinegars (yes, two!), but softened by the addition of a water, sugar, and spices. They’re not overbearing in onion flavor either as eating raw, unpickled ones tend to be.
These are the perfect bite on heavier items, like meats, cheeses, eggs, oily fishes, etc.; a dish where you want something with a little tang to cut through and lend some brightness. I like them combined with foods that are high in both fat and flavor because they add freshness as you go. They’re also, however, fantastic on lean meats and vegetables right off of a smoky charcoal grill where their cold, sweet piquancy is the perfect contrast of texture and flavor.
They’re so delicious and go with, nearly, everything. Once you make a batch, you’ll have trouble not putting them on everything.
Yields 1 quart; feel free to half or quarter! Adapted from here.
1lb. of red onions, thinly sliced
Red wine vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon of coriander seeds
1 Tablespoon of black peppercorns
1 teaspoon of mustard seeds
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
Slice the onions thinly and pack into a 1-quart container with a lid. Add enough water to the container for it to come within 1/2-inch of the rim. Pour the water out of the container and into a measuring cup. After noting the volume, dispense with half of the water and replace this quantity with half white vinegar and half red wine vinegar. The blending of these two vinegars give the onions a tangy, but softened flavor; the red wine vinegar also naturally enhances the color. For every 3 cups of the vinegar-water mixture, add 2 Tablespoons of sugar and 2 Tablespoons of salt.
Pour this solution into a non-reactive pot and add the mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, coriander seeds, peppercorns, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. Bring this to a boil over high heat and allow to boil for 2 minutes before removing it from the heat. Pour immediately over the onion making certain they are all covered. You may need to press the onions down into the pickling solution. When they have cooled enough that they are no longer steaming, screw on the lids and refrigerate.
Onions are ready to be eaten as soon as they are chilled, but continue to get better with age. They last for at least a month, though mine have lasted longer.
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