It took restaurant work to learn that almost anything can be pickled.
At the places where I’ve worked I’ve seen cucumber pickles, yes, and giardiniera, but also beets, herring, fresno peppers, cabbage, green beans, radishes, and mustard seeds. And those are only the ones I can remember with absolute certainty.
Pickling makes sense. It’s a way to preserve vegetables through the winter. Fresh winter produce is a pretty new innovation if you, like I, live somewhere where it snows. It’s a way to get something fresh and bright and tart and clean in your food when nothing grows. And it helps that pickles are delicious.
My childhood self has disowned me for that statement. I used to hate pickles- the sharpness on my tongue and the way the acid hit the back of my throat would make me cough. But age and exposure are great cures for all manner of ails, including pickle aversion.
I would be remiss, however, if I made you think that I love the common green cucumber pickle. We’ve come to an understanding. I don’t mind the cucumber pickle, and on occasion I even like them. The worst I can say is they don’t offend me. But I find other vegetables more interesting when pickled. And my heart really sings for the sharp, acidic, and crunchy bite of a pickled red onion.
One thing I love about pickled red onions is that although they are bright and acidic and sharp, they also tame the bite of red onions. They help take red onions from aggressive to assertive, gussying up the red onions with vinegar while the sugar helps bring out the inherent but hidden sweetness of the red onions. I added fennel seeds, coriander seeds, white peppercorns, and star anise to bring in some warmth. The result is certainly a pickle, but a balanced one. And with what color.
For a long time at work I would end every brunch shift with a sandwich of smashed avocado and pickled onion. It was a happy habit, and one that only ended when the dish using the pickled onions and avocado was taken off the menu. At home I’ll be adding these pickled red onions to tonight’s dinner of red kuri squash, rice, and beans. They make an excellent addition to all manner of tacos, and I’ve plans involving grain salads and these beauties. And I’ve got my current favorite breakfast sandwich coming up later this week, which stars (you guessed it) pickled red onions.
Easy Quick Pickled Red Onions
This recipe really is a template, and you can take it in a variety of directions, depending on what flavors you want to bring out. These pickles will keep well for weeks at a time, as long as the jar is clean and kept in the refrigerator. Of course, do use your best judgement. If you do smell any off smells, or the pickles become cloudy rather than brilliant, then it’s time to toss them.
Makes 1 quart
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
2 whole star anise
Place the red onion slices into a clean quart jar and set aside.
In a small saucepan combine the vinegars, salt, sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil, then pour over the red onion slices. Allow the vinegar to cool, then place a cap on the jar and refrigerate.
The pickles can be eaten after an hour of refrigeration, but will taste better after hanging out in the brine for over a day. They will keep, refrigerated and tightly capped, for a few weeks.