pickled red onions

I was never into pickles growing up. While my mom and younger sister would crunch their way through a monster-sized Disneyland pickle, I always fled in search of frozen lemonade or churros. The only contact I really had with them was when my dad would load the tuna with sweet pickle relish or when the little round slices would appear as a condiment on my burger. The ones that lived in a murky jar in the fridge always seemed a very floppy and uninviting way to eat a sweet, crisp cucumber when the unaltered version lay in a drawer just a foot or two below.

As my horizons broadened (and doesn’t it always happen this way?), I came to realize that the mass-produced, branded version of the thing I had come to call a pickle really only belonged to a very small subcategory of what it truly means to pickle. Pickling is merely the act of preserving something in vinegar or brine, I discovered, and you can pickle almost anything, from asparagus to pigs’ feet, as evidenced by the Hispanic foods aisle of the grocery store. And, while some things are better pickled than others (with the pigs’ feet falling into the latter category), a multitude of culinary options was opened to me.

Hence, when a mound of pickled onions showed up alongside my Cuban-style pork, black beans and plantains at Habana in Costa Mesa, California, I was ready to fall in love. They were sweet and crunchy, with a vinegary bite that paired perfectly with the roasted pork and helped to mellow the sugary plantains. I was surprised by my strong attraction to them and delighted to learn that international fare is not the only appropriate setting for a pickled onion or two. In fact, in the last handful of years, the art of pickling has seen a resurgence in the American culinary scene, and it follows suit that I have begun to see a whole lot more pickled onions on menus across the country. I have found them stashed between the layers of sandwiches and burgers, alike, and served as an accompaniment to an artisanal charcuterie plate; they seem to do well with most things meat and mustard.

Feeling a creative spark this summer, at a time when I had an overflowing supply of homemade sourdough rye bread and nothing new to adorn it, I figured I would try my hand with some pickled red onions. My ingenuity was rewarded: the onions were not only deliciously simple, but have stayed fresh in my fridge for almost two months now. I can easily get on board with any sort of homemade treasure that requires very little work for enjoyment- just an effortless trip to the fridge.

Pickled Red Onions

3 red onions, sliced into thin rounds
½ cup white wine vinegar
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup sugar
3 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon mustard seed, toasted
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons cracked pepper or whole peppercorns

Place onion slices in a heatproof medium bowl. Bring the next 9 ingredients to boil in a heavy medium saucepan; pour over onions in bowl. Cover and cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready for use.

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