Pickled onions are a tart and slightly sweet accompaniment to a wide variety of dishes (a perfect match with Mexican cuisine). The cool, pungent crunch adds a crisp fresh taste to carnitas or fish tacos in particular. They take 5 minutes to prep, 30 minutes to marinate, and will keep in the refrigerator for many weeks.Jump to Recipe
Pickled Onions for Mexican Carnitas, Cochinita Pibil or Fish Tacos
**Note: Author of this post and video is Tesla Stainbrook, daughter of Dorothy Stainbrook
A few years ago, freshly out of college, my then-roommate was from Belize. She shared a wonderful dish with me called cochinita pibil, which is a pulled pork dish with an achiote marinade.
After the roommate moved out and took all her Belizean recipes with her, I stumbled upon this recipe for cochinita pibil, which was served with pickled onions.
The recipe for the pickled onions looked easy and sounded like something I would like to eat. I was just starting to learn about cooking my own food and the pickled onions seemed like a perfect entry into a flavorful (but still easy) world of food.
Although that cold winter day was the first time I had pickled something, it was certainly not the last time! See the video above for a short video and the video in the recipe card for a detailed “how-to”.
What to Serve with Pickled Onions?
My family is somewhat notorious for eating the same item for days on end in various ways (aka creative leftover dishes). Pickled onions are the perfect versatile condiment that allow us to change up a dish to become a “new” meal.
Egg salad, beans, salads or any type of sandwich are just a few of the dishes subject to pickled onion additions.
My dad’s favorite “dish” using pickled onions is a sandwich with Miracle Whip, braunschweiger and pickled onions on rye bread. My mom prefers pickled onions on burgers or in a burrito bowl.
For me, it’s a rare day when I have any type of Mexican food without pickled onions. I really love the sweet, cool crunch of the onions in the soft and hot black beans.
I also love the tangy onions in salads (especially a version of this nicoise salad) or in my DIY poke bowls. And of course one of my favorite Mexican dishes that uses pickled onions is Mexican fish tacos.
However you use them, pickled onions are a slightly sweet, slightly tangy, and definitely delicious addition to any recipe.
What else can be pickled?
After pickling onions, I discovered you can pickle pretty much anything! Our family’s newest favorite pickled item is these pickled beet eggs, but we’ve also made our own kimchi (pickled and fermented cabbage), and even pickled chicken gizzards!
Pickled watermelon rind has recently become very trendy, and I think I’ll try that one next on my pickling journey. I’d also eventually like to try pickling jalapenos.
You don’t have to be too adventurous or an experienced chef to pickle foods, which is the beauty of pickling!
Another benefit of pickling is that pickling is so simple- most of the magic happens after you walk away. Pickling can sometimes take a few days to marinate, so patience and planning are key here.
Are there health benefits to pickling?
There have been many studies on the benefits of pickled or fermented foods to the gut flora suggesting that pickled foods can boost digestion and energy levels.
However, most recipes for pickled foods contain a fair amount of sugar and salt. I’ve read that the process of fermentation and pickling lowers the carbs and impacts of sugar, but I’m not sure how reliable those sources were.
30-minute Pickled Onions
- Large pickling jar
- Small pot
- 2-3 red onions large onions
- 1.5 Teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 2 Cups vinegar white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 2 – 3 Tablespoons sugar
- 3 Teaspoons table salt
- water enough to fill jar
- Peel the onions and cut them in half. Using a sharp knife or a mandolin, thinly slice the onions and place in a large glass jar (or heat proof bowl) with an airtight cover
- Add the peppercorns to the jar and lightly shake the jar to disperse the peppercorns
- In a small pot, combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt and heat until sugar and salt are dissolved (couple of minutes). Pour into the jar (or a heat proof bowl) with the onions
- Fill the jar with water until the water level reaches the top of the onions
- Let sit in room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour and place the extra in the refrigerator for later. Serve immediately, or refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 2 weeks.
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