These refrigerator 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 also pair red onions with lime juice to make it an amazing condiment for most Mexican style dishes.
Even though I spend lots of time in the kitchen and I'm SO passionate about food, that doesn't mean that all of my meals are all that glorious.
There is a lot of throwing rice + plain canned beans + veggies in a bowl (thank goodness for batch cooking), generously drizzling the bowl with any sauces available. Sort of an improvised buddha bowl. Then, munching down the food as quick as I can, before my kids see me sitting down quietly to eat. Which means about 5 minutes, max.
Because I truly believe that both our kids made a secret pact together to NEVER let me sit down by myself. And I usually choose my moment very wisely, like: "wow, they are playing so quietly, this is a good time. I'll finally sit for a bit".
No, never a good time. Kids have a sixth sense. They can tell whenever you try to do some self care or rest or just eat-your-darn-meal.
Sooooo, where I'm going with this overwhelmingly thrilling part of my life is that whenever I eat a meal that's a little less exciting, having something on hand to add some zing to my dish is simply pure delight.
And these Mexican pickled onion really make any dish so much more interesting. They are crunchy, with a good punch of brightening flavors and let's just face it, who doesn't need more pink food in their life?
Great 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, opposed to using only lime juice).
Mexican pickled red onion ingredients
- One large red onion
- 2 limes
- White vinegar
- Garlic cloves
- Maple syrup
How to make Mexican pickled onions
The pickled onions come together with a few minutes, but you will need to let them sit for at least 30 minutes to get the pickling magic happening.
1- Add the sliced onions and garlic cloves to a jar. Fill the jar as tight as you can as the onion will soften and the jar will loosen up with time.
2- In a small pot, combine the water, lime juice, vinegar, maple syrup and salt. Stir and warm up until it starts to simmer, then remove from the heat.
3- Pour the warm vinegary 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. Tilt the jar once in a while to distribute the pickling juice all over the onions.
Watch how to make them
How to prepare the red onion
This is where you can play around with the ingredients. Thiner slices will creates 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 better there thickness. I also allow them to pickle overnight so the thicker slices gets softer in flavor.
Start by cutting the onion in half and remove its peel. Then, flip each half on their flat side on the cutting board and slice then in half moon to the desired thickness.
After sliced, use your hand to break up the half moons pieces so you end up with loose slices, it marinates better that way.
Can I use a regular white onion?
Of course you can. I was looking for a Mexican vibe, so red onion works better for this, as well as pair beautifully with the lime juice. And red onion will get the brine so beautifully pink.
But, you do you. Yellow onion will work too, although the flavor might be more pungent even after marinating. Make sure to slice them on the thinner side if using them.
How to soften the onion 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 a 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 to the pickling jar.
What kind of vinegar can I use to make these Mexican pickled onions
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.
Variations to the recipe
- Some table salt or kosher salt can contains 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 to for pickling.
- Add some ground black pepper (or whole peppercorns!), dried oregano or whole cumin seeds for added Mexican flavor.
- To make it spicy, don't hesitate to add some red pepper flakes or even sliced fresh jalapeño.
- To turn the brine even more garlicky, instead of adding the cloves whole, you could crush them into the brine or smash them first before transferring to the jar.
How to store these Mexican pickled onion
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 non reactive (plastic can react with plastic container, so avoid them). I used these 16oz jars from Le Parfait, which work perfectly for a large red onion.
- Mexican buddha bowls
- Vegan eggless salad
- Smoky sandwich tofu
- Mexican baked potatoes
- Mexican Horchata
- Mexican black bean avocado toasts
- Tofu scramble sandwich
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.