Pickled Onion – Cebollas Encurtidas

Pickled onion, cebolla encurtida in Spanish, is great with grilled meats, but also a colorful addition to tacos and tortas — sandwiches. This is one recipe where a minimum of effort yields big results. A little crunchy, a little citrusy, and pleasantly oniony without the bite, it has become a staple in our fridge and on the table. Even though it looks like onion tacos in the photo below, there is chicken under the pickled onion. It’s easy to get heavy-handed with something this good.

Red onion in English, translated to cebolla morada (purple onion) in Spanish, adds a brightness to anything where raw onion is called for. The color, whether you see it as red or purple, seems to become more intense when pickled. This reminds me that we say brown eggs in English, but in Spanish it is huevos rojos — red eggs. Hmm … do we define or see colors differently in different cultures, different languages?

The pickling acids used here are vinegar, lime juice and orange juice. Our lime trees provided their curious fruit which seems to be a cross between lemons and limes, green like limes, but lighter in color, and not as sour as limes. Sadly, our orange trees are no more, overcome by the worldwide plague, citrus greening. The lime trees are resisting the disease so far, fingers crossed. So we buy oranges now, presumably growing healthy somewhere.

Pickled Onion — Cebolla Encurtidas

  • 1 jalapeño chile
  • 1/2 cup (118 ml) lime juice
  • 1/4 cup (59 ml) orange juice
  • 1/4 cup (59 ml) white vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1 large red onion, about 12 oz (340 grams), sliced into rings
  • I small carrot, sliced, optional
  1. Roast jalapeño over a gas flame or in a hot, dry skillet until mostly blackened. Use whole — uncut and unseeded.
  2. In a quart or liter jar, mix all ingredients together, except bay leaves, jalapeño and onion, until salt is dissolved.
  3. Add jalapeño, bay leaves, onion slices and carrot, if using. Press onion slices below liquid, adding more white vinegar or lime juice if necessary to submerge everything.
  4. They are ready after 2 hours at room temperature. Refrigerate for up to 3 to 4 days.

Notes ~

~ About onions in Mexico. Yellow onions don’t seem to exist here. White and red, yes, but not yellow. White onions are sharper and more pungent, as are red onions, though they are also described as being sweet. Red onions grill very well, keeping a better texture. I missed yellow onions for a long time after we moved here. White and red onions are the normal now.

~ Bitter orange juice is sometimes called for in pickling onions, but our bitter orange trees didn’t make it either, so it’s lime and orange for now.

~ Citrus greening has been wiping out citrus trees in Florida and other major citrus growing areas for years. There is no remedy, although agriculture departments worldwide are working on it. In Mexico, the disease is called dragon amarillo (yellow dragon), a nod to its origins in China.


7 thoughts on “Pickled Onion – Cebollas Encurtidas

  1. Sylvia Harder

    Hi Kathleen. I made the onions last night – before reading these comments. My onions were not covered either. I will add some carrots to bring the liquid higher, or I will transfer them to a different container to get them covered. How long will they last in the fridge …. assuming they don’t get eaten quickly? Looking forward to trying them today.

    1. Add more white vinegar if the onion slices need more liquid to be submerged. They are ready after 2 hours at room temperature, and remain good in the fridge for up to 3 to 4 days. I edited the instructions to answer your last question. Thanks, Sylvia!

  2. Lisa van thillo

    OK. I made the recipe and my husband loved it. I found that the onions weren’t completely covered, even after smashing them down. I just kept turning the jar upside down to get them covered. I think next time, I’ll use a mandolin and slice them even thinner and I’ll double the liquid.
    Yummy! Thanks for the recipe.

    1. Thanks for bringing this up. Had I not added sliced carrot, an afterthought, I would not had to have packed down the onion slices to get everything below the level of the liquid. There were just a few ends sticking up above the liquid, but I sloshed it around a few times for the 2 hours it sat out on the counter. Next time, you could pour in either vinegar or lime juice until everything is covered.I tried a mandolin, but couldn’t get even slices. I know that sounds strange, but the slice would start out thick, and finish thin. You may do better than I did.
      I’m glad you liked the recipe, and thanks for the comments!

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