Friends don’t let friends eat Mexican food without Mexican pickled onions! Quick pickled red onions Mexican style. Tart, sweet, a little heat and a whole lot of personality. Pickled red onions are a great topping for tacos, burritos, enchiladas or even a burger. Ready in just 30 minutes, let’s take a look.
This recipe was first published December 2010 and updated November 2020.
Table of contents
About This Recipe
The first time I had Mexican pickled onions was as a topping for fish tacos at a local, now sadly defunct popular Denver Mexican restaurant, Chama. Created by my favorite local restauranteur and Chef, Sean Yontz.
I thought they were the best thing since sliced bread. His fish tacos topped with these beautiful onions were a revelation for my taste buds.
After receiving instructions from the restaurant, I have duplicated Yontz’s recipe. I simply don’t think I’ve had better pickled red onions.
The best way to use these is a superb topping for Tacos. Pickled onions for tacos is simply a must.
Tart and sweet, add a hot bite from the onions, some heat from a dried red pepper and these onions bring the Fiesta to any Mexican meal.
So easy and with so much impact. You’ll simply not believe that you’ve never made them before.
Ingredients You’ll Need
Mise en place. Always gather ingredients before starting any recipe. It will save you time and organize your mind.
- Sugar: The sweetness will balance the tart and sour flavor of the vinegar.
- White Vinegar: White vinegar is the most versatile of vinegars. It brings acidity and a tart flavor to this pickled red onion recipe.
- Red Onion: (purple onion) Sweetness is the red onion’s claim to fame. It’s sharp in flavor, and has a higher sugar content that other onions. Plus, we want that red color to add to the vibrance of the finished product.
- Allspice Berries: Allspice is the dried berry of the tropical Pimenta dioica tree native to the West Indies and Central America. Its flavor is a combination of clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It brings beautiful aromatics to the finished dish.
- Whole Cloves: Strong, pungent, sweet and almost hot, cloves bring a penetrating flavor to these Mexican pickled red onions.
- Bay Leaf: When bay leaves are infused into water, it brings a minty flavor to the party. Some describe the flavor reminiscent of Christmas tree pine.
- Dried Chile Pepper: Deep red, a dried chile pepper will add color, spice and a pleasant earthy flavor to these onions. And depending on what chile pepper you choose, will dictate the level of heat to the recipe.
Bring these all together and you’ve got a wonderful flavor combination.
Step by Step Instructions
Could it get any easier?
- Slice the red onions. You can slice them into full rings or half moon shapes if you want smaller pieces. Use a sharp knife or even a mandolin. 1/8 inch slices are ideal for that perfect slight crunch.
- Break off the top of the chile pepper pod and empty out the seeds.
- Simmer the pickling mixture. In a small non-reactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, seasonings and chile pepper until boiling.
- Add the onion slices and lower heat, then simmer for 30 seconds, stirring to make sure all of the onions get coated with flavor.
- Remove from heat and let the mixture cool completely. I set the timer for 30 minutes to cool and let the flavors marry.
- Store or Serve: You can either use the quick pickled onions immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
FAQ’s And Tips
I have been trained and by habit have always used white vinegar for any pickling project. You most certainly can substitute cider vinegar or even red wine vinegar for this recipe. It simply will bring a little more sweetness to the overall flavor.
Yes please. Boiling the vinegar along with the spice and seasoning ingredients will insure that all flavors meld together for a superior end product.
The type of dried chile pepper you choose will dictate how spicy the pickled red onions are. A Guajillo pepper, which are readily available in markets is a very mild pepper. An Ancho Pepper (dried poblano) will bring medium heat. Look for dried Pasilla Peppers for more heat. And sprinkling in a few red pepper flakes will warm things up nicely. Some slices of fresh Jalapeno Pepper works very well here and will add a pop of green color.
No, this recipe is for quick pickled refrigerator onions and not designed for a water bath method. Take a look at this recipe for canned pickled red onions.
Yes. Red onions are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Full of fiber, they’ve been shown to boost health in many ways. Which may include fighting inflammation, boosting the immune system, as well as promoting healthy digestions. Learn more: (source) Healthier Steps.
How To Store
- Refrigerator: Once cooled, transfer onions to a clean airtight glass jar. A Mason jar works very well here. Make sure the onions are fully submerged in the pickling liquid. They’ll last for up to a month.
- Freezer: Pickled onions simply don’t freeze well.
What To Do with Mexican Pickled Onions
Once you get in the habit of keeping a jar of these pickled onions in the refrigerator, you’ve got a fiesta at your fingertips.
- Enchilada Burritos. Mexican Onions are a perfect topping for these earthy flavored beef and bean burritos.
- Adobo Grilled Shrimp Tostadas, Seafood tostadas are begging for these onions.
- Saucy Chicken Soft Tacos. Pickled red onions are a great topping for this tomato sauce version of soft chicken tacos.
- Next time you make a big pot of beans, like this recipe for Cowboy Beans, don’t forget a topping of these onions. It’s crazy delicious.
- Pickled red onions for tacos are a “must” for Pressure Cooker Carnitas Tacos. I think my favorite taco is pulled pork carnitas. Sprinkle a couple of pickled red onions over your tender carnitas for an exciting sweet salty flavor combination.
- Don’t forget about burgers. Try them on these Jalapeno Steak Sauce Burgers.
The quick pickling process transforms red onions into a culinary delight.
I hope you give this recipe for Mexican onions a try. They will most certainly elevate your Mexican food recipes.
More Pickling Recipes To Try
- Don’t miss my family recipe for Pickled Beets.
- Quick Spicy Pickles Made From Store Bought Dills. A wildly popular recipe on my site.
- Ever try Pickled Pineapple? It elevates pork tenderloin from good to great.
- Pickled Strawberries are another favorite topping for pork.
And if you are a red onion fans like us, don’t miss this recipe for Red Onion Chutney. Your next burger will thank you.
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30 Minute Mexican Pickled Onions
- 3/4 Cup white vinegar or apple cider or red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 allspice berries
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 small dried New Mexico Chile pepper Guajillo works good here
- 1 large red onion peeled, and thinly sliced into rings
- In a small non-reactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, seasonings and chile until boiling.
- Add the onion slices and lower heat, then simmer for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and let sit and cool at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Transfer the onions and the liquid into a covered container and refrigerate. These should keep for about a month in the refrigerator.
Mexican Pickled Onions ….They’re What’s for a Mexican Dinner.
Why Trust These Recipes? Lea Ann Brown has lived, worked and played in Colorado for 45 years. She has immersed herself in the Colorado Culinary space, is a Culinary School Graduate and publishes her Colorado food Blog, Cooking On The Ranch.