Looking for the perfect condiment to add a bright zing to just about anything? These Mexican Pickled Onions or Cebollas Curtidas add phenomenal color and crunch, not to mention sweet vinegary bite to tacos, sandwiches, tostadas and more! Video included.
Recipe first posted on September 22, 2021 and last updated with step-by-step photos on December 31, 2023.
This Mexican secret of adding acid to onions—making them soft, supple, and tame– is one of the best ways to add a special finishing touch to your favorite Mexican food recipe.
All over Mexico you will find different variations on this idea depending on the most abundant local onion and other ingredients they have to add that acidic touch.
You can use white onions (although I prefer purple onion) and the sourness can be anything from bitter orange juice, lime juice, or the gentle, sweet fruit vinegars many people make in their homes.
Sometimes spices like black peppercorns, bay leaves, or allspice berries are added. Occasionally, I add minced habanero peppers if I want to make them spicy.
My recipe adds a touch of sweetness to make a quick pickled red onion recipe that is 100 percent addictive!
See the recipe card for exact amounts to make these easy Mexican pickled onions.
- Red Onions. You will need onions (obviously). This makes enough brine for 1 large red onion or 2 small red onions. You can also use white or yellow onions but the red onions turn into beautiful pink onions after they’ve been pickled.
- Granulated Sugar. I think this gives the cleanest flavor and clearest liquid but see below for other sugar substitutes.
- Kosher Salt. Always kosher, always Morton’s.
- Distilled White Vinegar. Just like the granulated sugar, I think distilled white vinegar offers the cleanest flavor but I’ve listed other vinegar options in the variations listed below.
How To Make This Recipe (Step-by-Step Instructions)
When I say this is a simple recipe, I mean it! The prep time takes about 10 minutes and the total time is only 15 minutes!
I use the ratio of sugar to vinegar to water that my grandmother taught me when we would make pickled beets in the summer. It works on just about any vegetable and in my opinion is the perfect mix of sweet and sour.
Make the brine. Start by mixing the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. Bring the mixture to a boil then turn the heat off.
Cover with hot brine. Pour the pickling liquid over the onions, push down to submerge in the liquid. Let cool to room temperature, at least 30 minutes.
Chill. Transfer to a Mason jar or glass container, making sure the onions are covered by the pickling liquid. Place the lid on top and keep onions in the fridge for up to a month.
*CHEF’S TIP: This is a great way to preserve an abundance of garden or Farmer’s market vegetables.
when are they ready?
These refrigerator pickles are ready as soon as they are cold. Let them sit at least an hour or two in the refrigerator before eating. That being said, the longer they sit, the better they are. I like to make them at least a day before I plan on eating them.
They will keep sealed in a large jar or airtight container in the fridge for up to a month, but mine never make it that long, they are so good, they disappear in usually about a week.
Enjoy on all your favorite Mexican dishes!
variations on this red onions recipe
Now that you’ve got the idea, let’s play around!
- Swap the distilled white vinegar in these Mexican onions for rice vinegar, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar.
- Use maple syrup, brown sugar, or Piloncillo (raw, crushed sugar cane) instead of the granulated sugar.
- Add spices to the glass jar like toasted cumin seeds, whole allspice berries, or black peppercorns. Or add a few garlic cloves. Gemma from Everyday Latina adds bay leaf, Mexican oregano, and red pepper flakes to hers.
- Instead of quick pickled red onions, use thinly slice carrots, radishes, bell peppers, or beets instead.
- Cut onions into thick slices and char them first on a hot, dry comal or on the grill before soaking them in the brine. This gives them a smoky flavor.
what to eat with this Mexican pickled onion recipe
I honestly can’t think of an authentic Mexican dish that wouldn’t benefit from a tangle of pickled onions on top. Here are a few ideas:
- Cochinita Pibil Tacos
- On top of Grilled Fish Tacos
- Grilled Hot Dog and Sausages
- Crock Pot Mexican Pulled Pork Sandwiches
- You could even chop them up and add them to salad dressings
- Use to top your avocado toast
- They are essential for nachos
- Add zing to your burritos or burrito bowls
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take your tacos from good to amazing!
With this one simple trick! When you taste these pickled red onions, let me know how they’ve transformed your life—or at least your tacos. Let me know when you make it by snapping a pic and tagging me on Instagram @holajalapeno and #holajalapeno so I can see or leave me a comment below (don’t forget to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating) ! Also, sign up for my weekly newsletter, lots of good stuff there too!
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