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We use these quick pickled red onions to top a wide variety of Mexican foods (and, honestly, so much more). They add punch to vegan dishes and help cut through the richness of meaty ones. You really can’t go wrong.

pickled red onions for mexican food in a mason jar
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Why we love this recipe

There’s alchemy in the combination of onions and vinegar. No question. These pickled red onions have been in my repertoire for many years, and I can’t count the number of times that someone has asked for the recipe.

They:

  • Have a surprisingly complex taste given that they’re made from just a few ingredients
  • Jazz up plant-based foods and cut through richer foods with their tangy, craveable bite
  • Last a looooong time in the fridge, so you can make a batch and keep it on hand
  • Take practically no time at all to put together

I first published this recipe here way back in 2011, adapted from

What you’ll need

The remarkably complex taste of these pickled red onions comes from just a handful of common ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need.

ingredients in bowls
  • Use good old red onions from the grocery store.
  • There’s no substitute for freshly squeezed lime juice. Don’t be tempted to use the bottled stuff.
  • Red wine vinegar and distilled white vinegar in a 2:1 ratio provide the perfect combination of flavor and acidity that also turn the onions a beautiful shade of pink.
  • Very small amounts of sugar and salt round out the flavor profile.
  • For the fresh herbs, you’ve got options. I always include cilantro, and if I have them on hand, I’ll also tuck in some rosemary, thyme, and oregano in pretty much any combination.

How to make it

There’s nothing fancy about the pickled red onion-making process. You can do it all with a chef’s knife and a mason jar. Here’s an overview of what you’ll do. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

step by step
  1. Peel and halve two good-sized red onions from root to tip. Slice thinly from root to tip. Slicing them this way as opposed to crosswise helps them hold their shape and toothsome bite as they soften up in the brine.
  2. Into a quart-sized mason jar or other glass container, pour the vinegars, lime juice, salt, and sugar. Put a lid on the jar and shake it up until the salt and sugar are pretty well dissolved.
  3. Add the herbs.
  4. Pack in the sliced onions, pressing down with a spoon to fit it all into the jar. Top it off with more red wine vinegar if necessary to cover all the onions. Let them marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature before serving. That’s it!

Suggested variations

Spicy pickled onions

This recipe lends itself beautifully to the addition of spiciness. Depending on your heat tolerance, you can add anywhere from half a jalapeño to a whole habanero when you add the herbs. You don’t need to make any additional changes to the recipe. Note that the longer the onions sit in the fridge, the spicier they will get.

Pickled red onions with no sugar

This isn’t a sweet pickle at all. The tablespoon of sugar merely rounds out the flavor and is barely perceptible. If you need a sugar-free recipe for any reason, you can simply omit the sugar and proceed with the recipe as written.

a shrimp quesadilla garnished with pickled red onions

Expert tips and FAQs

Do these make a good gift?

(Asked no one ever.) Weird true fact, though: I sometimes bring a jar of pickled red onions as a little gift to ensure we get the best possible treatment when we travel. There’s nothing wrong with endearing yourself to the host, and this is a spectacular — and spectacularly easy — way to do it.

How long can you keep pickled onions?

Part of the magic of this recipe is that it will keep for up to a month tightly sealed in a nice cold fridge. We like to keep a batch of them on hand pretty much all the time to add to all kinds of meals and snacks. They’ll get a little more pickled as they age.

How to serve them

Oh, you guys. The list goes ON. Here are a handful of our favorite things to top with pickled red onions. But don’t neglect to toss them into salads and onto sandwiches, too.

carne asada tacos garnished with pickled red onions

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pickled red onions for mexican food in a mason jar
4.78 from 18 votes

Pickled Red Onions

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
This bright, gently perfumed condiment brings a lot of character to a wide variety of dishes. It’s a great technique to add character to vegan (or wildly carnivorous!) meals.
Prep: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 30 minutes
Total: 40 minutes
Servings: 12
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Ingredients 

  • 2 medium red onions
  • Juice of two limes, at least 1/4 cup/(60 ml)
  • 1 cup (240 ml) red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup (120 ml) distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • ½ cup fresh oregano, thyme, rosemary, or cilantro sprigs, or a combination

Instructions 

  • Peel the onions and halve from tip to root. Very thinly slice each half from tip to root.
  • In a quart-size mason jar or medium bowl with a lid, combine the lime juice, red wine vinegar, white vinegar, sugar, and salt. Stir (or put a lid on the jar and shake gently) to completely dissolve sugar and salt.
  • Add the sliced onions and the herbs to the jar or bowl. Stir and press a bit to submerge all the onions and herbs in the liquid. Top off with an extra splash of vinegar if necessary.
  • Pickle these babies in the fridge for 24 hours or simply on the counter at room temperature for an hour or two before serving as a condiment for tacos, sandwiches, salads — you name it.

Notes

  1. Slicing the onions from root to tip as opposed to crosswise helps them hold their shape and toothsome bite as they soften up in the brine.
  2. There's no substitute for freshly squeezed lime juice. Don't be tempted to use the bottled stuff.
  3. For the fresh herbs, you've got options. I always include cilantro, and if I have them on hand, I'll also tuck in some rosemary, thyme, and oregano in pretty much any combination.Part of the magic of this recipe is that it will keep for up to a month tightly sealed in a nice cold fridge. We like to keep a batch of them on hand pretty much all the time to add to all kinds of meals and snacks. They'll get a little more pickled as they age.
  4. Spicy variation: soicy pickeld onions: This recipe lends itself beautifully to the addition of spiciness. Depending on your heat tolerance, you can add anywhere from half a jalapeño to a whole habanero when you add the herbs. You don't need to make any additional changes to the recipe. Note that the longer the onions sit in the fridge, the spicier they will get.
  5. Sugar-free variation: This isn't a sweet pickle at all. The tablespoon of sugar merely rounds out the flavor and is barely perceptible. If you need a sugar-free recipe for any reason, you can simply omit the sugar and proceed with the recipe as written.
I first published this recipe here way back in 2011, adapted from Bobby Flay via Serious Eats. I've since updated the post for clarity, but the recipe remains the same.

Nutrition

Calories: 24kcal, Carbohydrates: 5.3g, Protein: 0.4g, Fiber: 0.5g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Sauces and Condiments
Cuisine: Mexican
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

Hungry for more?

Subscribe to Umami Girl’s email updates, and follow along on Instagram.

Hungry for More?
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Carolyn Gratzer Cope Bio Photo

About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

4.78 from 18 votes (18 ratings without comment)

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16 Comments

  1. Really good ,no really great. I tried at least 5 other recipes I like these the best. My family does also . Thanks for sharing it

  2. You may want to try blanching the onions first. Just pour boiling water over them and let them soak about 10 seconds, then drain.

      1. Yeah, it’s really not necessary or desirable to blanch them first. The vinegar takes just the right amount of bite out of the raw onions.

    1. I LOVE this recipe! I’m so glad I found it. I tried couple of recipes on internet for pickled onions after having delicious street tacos with different pickled vegetables. I also added some sliced carrots and hot peppers to the jar. It’s perfect! It’s the taste I was looking for.

  3. Going to try these with a twist: ume flavored vinegar instead of red wine, and shiso leaves! I am sure they will be yume!

  4. I love pickled onions! Sometimes I like to add jalapenos and carrots for extra spice and crunch.

    The Dinner Belle for Kimberlybelle.com

  5. ? pickled onions! so good on sandwiches, salads, in soups, etc. I’ve made a few different variations and both are long gone 😉 {one of the recipes used orange juice as well as lemon and lime}

  6. I just tried my first pickled onions last week and was hoping to find a recipe! Definitely trying this one, looks amazing!

  7. yummmm i always put some vinegar on onions for a little while before adding them to things like wraps or tuna salad, just to cut the taste a little but this looks phenomenal! can’t wait to try 🙂