3 Delicious Reasons to Quick Pickle an Onion

This homemade condiment adds a pop of acidity to comforting vegetarian dishes.

By Tejal Rao

One of my favorite tiny tasks in the kitchen is to quick pickle some onion or a few shallots. I can scatter it on dishes for days, adding brightness and crunch, and a few drops of the sweet and sour pickling liquid can double as a finish at the table, like a pinch of flaky salt.

If you need a reason to make your own pickle today, I’d like to present Jocelyn Ramirez’s delicious enfrijoladas. Purée pinto beans with a chipotle to start the creamy, smoky sauce, them simmer it down, dipping in some lightly pan-fried tortillas. A plate of those enfrijoladas, covered in avocado, sour cream and onion soaked in citrus juice with oregano, is so comforting.

Always pickle a bit more onion than you need (one big onion will go a long way!), because there are so many more possibilities for the leftovers.

For example:

Sautéed mushrooms deglazed with a splash of wine and simmered with a spoon of crème fraîche + garlic-rubbed toast + pickled onions + lots of parsley and capers

Grain salad, hard-boiled eggs or simply roasted vegetables + dressing of pickled onions + pickling liquid + olive oil + salt and pepper

Crispy fried egg + hot rice + pickled onion + sliced chile soaked in the same pickling liquid for breakfast or dinner

I think of pickled onion as a bonus most of the time, but it’s not just an optional garnish. It can be essential, like in rajma and rice, the kidney beans simmered in a tomato-y sauce with garlic, ginger and green chiles.

I make all kinds of alternative versions of the dish, and each one is just as cozy as the next. I swap in string cheese or yogurt on top, reach for fresh tomatoes or canned. I’ve used Thai chilies, serranos and jalapeños. I’ve left out the garlic. But I would never, ever skip the pickled onion!

They’re just as crucial in Nik Sharma’s beautiful roasted brussels sprouts on labneh. Nik uses shallots, but if you have some pickled onion ready to go, it would work beautifully. And I bet it would be so good with some hot msemen, the flaky Moroccan bread, on the side. Follow Nargisse Benkabbou’s new recipe, and use the flatbread to scoop a little bit of everything to make the perfect bite — creamy labneh, deeply browned brussels sprouts and, of course, some slightly crunchy, super juicy pickled onion.

Enfrijoladas Pintos

Go to the recipe.

Brussels Sprouts With Pickled Shallots and Labneh

Go to the recipe.

Baked Rajma

Go to the recipe.

One More Thing!

Here’s a basic pickle recipe that makes enough for all three dishes. It involves blanching the onion very briefly to soften its raw flavor.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Pour ¼ cup of that hot water into a heatproof bowl, and add 1 tablespoon sugar and 2 teaspoons kosher salt. To the pot, add 1 large halved and finely sliced red onion, and let it simmer for about 30 seconds. Drain the onion well and add it to the bowl of seasoned water. Add ½ cup rice wine vinegar, stir to mix and store, covered, in the fridge for up to a week.

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