One of the things I make regularly to keep around the house are pickled onions of one sort or another. Pickled onions are quick and easy to make and add snap to just about anything. Hummus and pita. Sandwiches. Salads. Burritos! Burgers. Whatever works. I’ll put these things on pretty much anything. But I usually make them super-super simple, with just vinegar and sugar and salt. Delicious, sure, but that doesn’t mean I won’t yield to the temptation of pickled onions made with the soft, smoky flavor of cumin and the bite of crushed red pepper. Here’s what I used:
- 3 onions, thinly sliced; I used two red and one sweet yellow, all medium-sized. Use what you have and/or what you prefer.
- 2-3 (or four, who’s counting?) garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1 1/2 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Pepper to taste.
- Oil for sauteeing; I used olive oil because that’s what I always use, but you can certainly use something like sunflower oil with a more neutral taste.
And then? This is straightforward cooking, folks, so brace yourself for nothing complicated. Get a nice, big pan and heat it on medium heat, coat it with enough oil to lightly saute in, then add the onions into the oil and let them get soft and golden (it will take a few minutes, and stir them fairly frequently so you don’t let them start to brown. You want them soft, not crisped). Make sure you use a big enough pan! One of the best pieces of advice I read recently was, “Food needs room to cook”, and it sounds simple but it’s fundamentally true. Cram the onions into a too-small pan and they’ll steam and be weird and not develop their flavors as well as they should. Plus, it’s a pain to try and cook tidily in a pan that’s too small. Cooking’s not about getting messy and frustrated, it’s about making beautiful meals. Moving on.
Once the onions are golden, add the garlic, cumin, and mustard seeds. Give it a stir and let them cook together for a minute. Then add brown sugar, salt, red wine vinegar and red pepper flakes. Crack in as much fresh-ground pepper as you’d like. Please note: this is really where you can make this dish yours. Do you want it sweeter? Add more brown sugar. Hotter? Or not hot at all? Do what you will with the pepper flakes. You certainly don’t have to use as much garlic as I do. Do you think you want a less aggressive vinegar, or just want a different flavor? Use cider vinegar or champagne vinegar. You can play with your food. This is where the magic happens, folks.
Simmer your beautiful concoction over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are even more beautifully golden. They should be cooked through but still have a little bit of crunch, and they should be pungent and rich and brisk and snappy. Just like any good pickle.
When the time comes–and by “the time” I mean, “the moment you can’t stand it any longer and have to feed”–remember that this sits wonderfully on a crostini with a little shot of parmesan on top.
We served this with Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe Sauce and Parmesan-Roasted Acorn Squash, and holy pockets! It was one of those meals where I couldn’t decide which component I liked best. In the grand scheme of things, this is a very, very good problem to have.