When I first had these onions at a Mexican restaurant with my burrito many years ago, I thought the heavens had parted to give me a treat I couldn't get enough of. My taste buds start dancing like they do with pickles and kimchi.
Then I figured out how easy and cheap it was to make. And how pretty they are. And that they last forever in the fridge. All signs that point to a great gift for your friends and family that like to ride the flavor train too.
There are easier ways to do this than what I'm listing, but the harmony of all the spices really amp this topping up. Plus, with all of the wonderful but heavy foods the holidays bring, having zesty onions to help cut through all of that and give your taste buds a bit of a refreshing break is gladly appreciated.
Here we have the red onions, vinegar, brown sugar, salt, ground cinnamon, whole cloves, peppercorn, and Korean red chili flakes. I always have a big heap of gochugaru around, but you can use any dried chili flakes instead. You'll also need some water. I end up using a different amount every time. The garlic and bay leaves definitely add flavor, but I love the way it looks in the jar too.
Speaking of jars, mason jars are the best. I constantly reuse these guys all the time for things like this, leftovers, and to store ingredients. Gifting this with a mason jar is what makes it special. I usually don't seal and pickle these because they go fast in my home, but with the mason jars you have the option.
To prep the onion, cut in half from root end to the top. This will be easier to peel off the skin.
Now, cut off the ends and peel off the skin.
Roughly slice these to about a 1/4" pieces, across the width of the onion so you have nice pieces.
Slice your garlic lengthwise and wash your bay leaves. This works great with dried bay leaves too.
Set these aside while we get the brine ready.
Sidenote: If you wanted to do a bare bones version of this, you could just use the vinegar and salt with the onions. BUT. Using at least a couple extra spices just adds so much flavor. You wont regret using them.
We're going to toast the cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, and Korean chili flakes for a couple minutes on low heat. This will add yet another layer of yumminess.
Stir it around so they don't burn. The smell in your kitchen is going to be amazing.
Carefully add the vinegar to the pot, it will steam up for a couple seconds, but will simmer down quickly. By the way, I'm using rice wine vinegar (and a little bit of leftover red wine vinegar) because I always have that in my pantry. Distilled white vinegar is perfectly fine for this too.
Add the salt and brown sugar to the pot.
And whisk away. When the brown sugar and salt dissolve, turn off the heat. The whole goal of doing this on the stove top is not to cook this marinade, but to incorporate all the ingredients together.
Back to the onions. I have three quart jars here, but smaller jars would work great too.
Firmly pack the onions in so that you can fit the maximum amount in there. You might have to wiggle things around to make sure there aren't any large gaps. Fill to about 1/4" from the top. Since we're not canning these, you don't have to be too careful of how full it gets.
Jam in the pretty bay leaf on the side so it's displayed nicely.
Push the garlic slices on the sides as well.
Bring your marinade over and get your ladle.
Start putting the liquid and all the bits into the jars, one ladle in each jar at a time.
So. I put all of the pieces into the jars because they will continue to give off their amazing spice while they're in the fridge, but if you're worried about eating a peppercorn or clove, fish them out of the liquid before putting them into your jar.
You should be able to fill about half of the jar with the marinade. You may be wondering why we're going to use water to top these off. That's because what you have there in liquid form is a ninja kick to the face. Remember that the onions also have a strong flavor too.
Use cold or room temp water to fill the jars up to the bottom of the brim, or covering all the onions.
Use a chopstick or end of a spoon to get the air bubbles out by inserting it on the side and pushing towards the center. This will help make more room.
Gently shake the marinade to get everything evenly incorporated with each other.
The onions will settle down a little so it's alight if it looks too full. They look great already but if you wait and leave these overnight, they will look like ...
... this! Ok it's not too dramatic, but you'll see the whole piece getting evenly pink instead of just on the edge. They are also ready for tasting at this point. If you need these same day, do at least an hour before you serve. The longer you let it sit, the better.
I love to use these in just about everything. Even if you're not sure about when you'll be using these, take a minute to make them and you'll find dishes that need just a little bit of oomph. Talk about a makeover when you use these onions with leftovers.
When things get a little hectic, I just toss these on a taco made with black beans and rice with corn. Easy peasy, delicious and nutritious. Whether you're making this for yourself, or presenting your hostess with the gift of zesty flavor, you'll be glad to have these around.
Marinated Red Onions | About 3 Quarts or 12 cups
3 large red onions
6 Garlic cloves
3 cups rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon (or two cinnamon sticks)
1 teaspoon whole peppercorn
1 teaspoon gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
3 Bay leaves
3-5 cups of water
- Cut the onions in half, from the root end to the top. Cut off the ends and peel off the top tough layer.
- Slice the onion halves into 1/4" pieces.
- Thinly slice each garlic clove, lengthwise.
- On low heat in a small pot, toast the cinnamon, peppercorns, red pepper flakes and cloves for about 2-4 minutes. You'll start to really smell their flavors and the color will slightly change to a darker tone.
- Carefully add the vinegar and whisk in the brown sugar and salt. Once the sugar and salt has dissolved, turn off the heat.
- Add the raw onions to the mason jars, leaving about a 1/4" from the top.
- Place the bay leaves and garlic cloves in the mason jars.
- Using a ladle, pour in the brine filling the mason jar halfway. Fill the other half with water up to the bottom of the brim of the jar. Twist on the lids and gently shake the jar to mix the marinade.
- Let stand at least 1 hour before serving. Can be made about 2 weeks in advance. Keep refrigerated.