These Mexican pickled onions are done super quickly (30 minutes!) and will add a good crunch and a fun zest to so many meals, from burgers to buddha bowls and salads. They pair red onions with lime juice and white vinegar to make it a great condiment for most Mexican-style dishes, especially tacos, tostadas and burritos!
When we are making tacos, you can be sure I will also be whipping a batch of those delicious Mexican pickled onions.
They come together so quickly with minimal resting time (30 min!), which is perfect for busy families and last-minute side dishes to pair with Mexican recipes. Plus, they are made with classic white vinegar, but also some freshly squeezed lime juice, which adds a nice twist to a classic pickled onion recipe.
They essentially are a tutorial on how to make "cebollas curtidas" (pickled red onions used in Mexican cuisine), although with a nice twist, thanks to the lime juice.
Their flavor is right on point with a perfect balance of sweetness vs tanginess. Using red onions makes those pickles a little more mellow in taste compared to using regular onions, plus, it gives them such a beautiful and appetizing pink hue.
But these quick pickled red onions not only bring a nice punch of bright flavor that balance hearty meals so well, but also add such a good crunch to add more layers of texture to your dish.
Let me know if you gave this recipe a try! ❤️
Perfect condiment for Mexican dishes
These pickled onions have such a nice Mexican twist:
- They are made using red onions, which are less pungent and a little sweeter than regular onions.
- Also, classic pickled onions usually contain only vinegar as the acidic agent. In this recipe, using about half vinegar and half lime juice brings a delicious flavor that pairs well with Mexican meals (I found that a combo of both was best, as opposed to using only lime juice).
Why you should try this recipe
- Very quick pickling recipe: ready in under 30 minutes
- Easy recipe anyone can make
- Can be made ahead and great for meal-prep
- Brightens up meals by adding such a nice tangy flavor
- Versatile and can tweak the ingredients as you wish
- Healthy: filled with vitamins, packed with antioxidants, low in added sugar and rich in fiber.
- Uses simple ingredients
- Can be used in so many meals!
- Naturally vegan (plant-based), gluten-free and dairy-free
Ingredients you will need
- One large red onion: best kind of onion for this recipe as they are sweeter and less pungent, plus they bring such an amazing color (we call them pink onions!). White onions or yellow onions will work too, but the result will be pickled onions that are stronger in taste (I would let those marinate for longer and slice them as thin as possible). You can also use a few (2-3) small red onions.
- Fresh lime juice: you will need the juice of 2 whole limes for this recipe. If your limes aren't that juicy, then you can use a third lime. Try not to swap for lemon, the flavor wouldn't be the same.
- White vinegar: I used distilled white vinegar, although you can swap for other kind of vinegar if you prefer, such as apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar or even rice vinegar.
- Garlic cloves: I like adding some whole cloves of garlic just for added flavor, although the overall taste isn’t garlicky at all.
- Maple syrup: to balance the pickling juice flavor. If looking for sweet pickles, then simply add more!
How to make Mexican pickled onions
The pickled onions come together in a few minutes, but you will need to let them sit for at least 30 minutes to allow the pickling magic to happen.
Prepare the onions
The idea is to peel and then slice the onion finely enough to help the pickling process.
I simply slice the onion by hand using a knife right on a cutting board.
Then, transfer the sliced onions to a large glass jar (you can gently push on them so fill the jar tightly). Add the cloves of garlic over and set aside.
Make the brine
In a small pot, combine the water, lime juice, vinegar, maple syrup and salt. Stir and warm up on medium heat until it starts to simmer, then remove from the heat.
Combine and chill
Pour the warm vinegar mixture over the onions in the jar, close tight with a lid and let sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before enjoying. The longer they pickle, the softer they become!
Tilt the jar once in a while to distribute the pickling juice all over the onions.
- The slices of onion will slowly soften as they rest in the brine and sink into the jar. For this reason, make sure to pack the jar very well and simply press on them once in a while as they marinate to help them sink in the pickling liquid.
- If you eat the onion pretty quickly, meaning within one meal or 1-2 days, then you can reuse the pickling brine and make a second batch of pickles by adding more raw onions to it.
Tips on how to prepare the red onion
This is where you can play around with the ingredients. Thinner slices will create soft ribbons of onion after marinating. A mandoline would work great (and it's safer) to slice your onions super thinly. Thicker slices will help keep a good crunch on the veggie while keeping them a little stronger in flavor too.
I like mine not too thin, not too thick, so I use a knife where I can control their thickness better. I also allow them to pickle overnight so the thicker slices get softer in flavor.
Start by cutting the onion in half and remove its peel. Then, flip each half on its flat side on the cutting board and slice them in half moons to the desired thickness.
After slicing, use your hand to break up the half-moon pieces so you end up with loose slices, it marinates better that way.
How to make red onion pickles with a milder flavor
- The more you let the onion marinate, the softer in flavor they will get.
- Slicing the onion thinner will also accelerate their pickling process and make them less pungent.
- You can sweeten the pickling juice a little more by adjusting the amount of maple syrup.
- Make sure to use red onion, not yellow onion, as they are sweeter and milder in flavor.
- You can also blanch the sliced onion for a few minutes in boiling water before transferring it to the pickling jar.
Variations to the recipe
- Type of salt: some table salt or kosher salt can contain anti-caking agents to prevent the salt to clump together, which can turn your pickling brine a little cloudy (although won't affect the taste at all). I used a simple table salt for this quick pickling recipe, but if you prefer, you can look for a pickling salt that's completely free of caking agents (this article on All Recipes about pickling salt will give you more information). Some kosher salt can also work great for pickling.
- More flavorful ingredient: add some ground black pepper (or whole black peppercorns!), dried oregano (Mexican oregano would be great if you can find it!), bay leaves or whole cumin seeds for added Mexican flavor. You can also add some fresh herbs, especially cilantro, for a nice boost of freshness.
- Spicy: don't hesitate to add some red pepper flakes or even sliced fresh peppers, such as jalapeño or habanero, to add some heat to your pickles.
- Garlic: to make a brine even more garlicky, then instead of adding the cloves whole, you could crush them into the brine or smash them first before transferring them to the jar.
- More veggies: include some sliced bell peppers (any colors) or carrots (julienned) in your recipe. Add more brine if necessary!
- Balsamic: be sure to check out this balsamic pickled red onion recipe for a different flavor profile!
These pickled red onions can be served in so many various ways! They make for a great addition to any of your favorite Mexican dishes and include them whenever you are looking for a tangy condiment to add a nice punch of flavor and crunchiness.
Here are a few pairing ideas:
- Tacos (Try with these lentil walnut tacos or these vegan fish tacos!)
- Healthy bowls
- Avocado toast
- Pasta salads (perfect over this cilantro lime pasta salad!)
These pickled onions can be stored in the fridge for a few weeks. I kept them for a whole 3 weeks and although they were softer by then with deeper flavor, they still were very good. This recipe isn't meant for long-term canning, though.
For storage, use a glass container or a material that's nonreactive (plastic can react with plastic containers, so avoid them). I used a 16oz mason jar from Le Parfait, which works perfectly for a large red onion.
What kind of vinegar can I use?
For this recipe, you will use a combo of lime juice and vinegar. For the vinegar part, I love using distilled white vinegar for its flavorless and clear nature. But, you can also use 1:1 of apple cider vinegar. I did try using only lime juice for pickling, but thought the flavor was a little too lime-ish and almost bitter. But if it is something you are looking for, then swap the vinegar for more lime juice.
Do I have to sterilize the glass jar before using it?
I do not in that case since those are refrigerator pickled onion and this recipe is not meant for longer pantry-stable storage. Just m, make sure your jar is super clean and maybe try to run it through the dishwasher before using it.
- Mexican buddha bowls
- Vegan eggless salad
- Smoky sandwich tofu
- Mexican baked potatoes
- Mexican Horchata
- Mexican black bean avocado toasts
- Tofu scramble sandwich
- Vegan chickpea gyros
I hope you enjoy these Mexican pickled onions as much as we do! If you try them, please leave a comment below and rate the recipe to let me know how they were. Your feedback is so helpful!
Mexican Pickled Onions (Quick & Easy)
- 1 large red onion - thinly sliced
- 2 large cloves of garlic - peeled, whole
- 2 limes - juiced
- 3 tbsp distilled white vinegar
- 1 tbsp maple syrup - or any sweetener
- ½ cup water
- 1 tsp salt
- Peel and slice the onion thinly. Then, using your hands, break apart the pieces so you end up with loose slices (it marinates better). Transfer to a glass jar (a 16 oz jar works well). Add the garlic cloves (whole) over the slices. Set aside.
- In a small pot, add the rest of the ingredients and warm for a few minutes without boiling. You just want to warm up the mixture and dissolve the salt. When done, pour the vinegary liquids over the onions. Seal the jar and transfer to the fridge to chill.
- The pickled onions are ready after 30 minutes, but best after it chills for a few hours. Store in the fridge for a few weeks.
- This recipe is not meant for long term canning.
- Add these pickled onion to any Mexican dishes like tacos, tostadas, burritos, enchiladas, etc. Also add lots of flavor and texture to sandwiches, buddha bowls, salads, burgers and so much more.