Pickled red onions are an essential in Yucatán cuisine and accompany many traditional dishes, including cochinita pibil [Editor’s Note: And many untraditional dishes, including ancho short rib tacos]. They’re so easy to make and brighten up any dish with their sweet acidity and hot pink color.–Shannon Bard

LC Acid(ic) Trip Note

Pickled red onions provide the perfect acid(ic) trip when tucked inside tacos, quesadillas, sandwiches, hot dogs, and anything else that could use a tangy crunch. And don’t feel bad if they don’t even make it that far. We’ve been known to snitch so many straight outta the bowl that we’ve had to make another batch. Luckily, these take only 15 minutes to toss together and a few hours to actually pickle. Actually, lately we tend to simply double the recipe right away. That whole “know thyself” thing. As for what you can do with pickled red onions, we compiled a short list of things we find are perfect when embellished by these. Here it is:

Atop tacos, natch. Especially grilled fish tacos.
Substituted for coleslaw on a barbecue sandwich.
Stirred into eggs any time of day.
Plopped on hot dogs.
Swapped in place of pico de gallo or salsa in just about anything.
Draped on an open-face sandwich of smoked salmon and cream cheese or chèvre.
Incorporated into lentil salad with feta.
Added to watermelon salad with feta and arugula.
Strewn atop avocado toast.

A canning jar overflowing with pickled red onions and a fork resting on the jar.

Pickled Red Onions

5 / 2 votes
Pickled red onions are a life-saver when it comes to amping up Taco Tuesdays. Or Sandwich Saturdays. Tangy from lime juice and flavored with cumin and oregano, they're packed with taste.
David Leite
CuisineTex Mex
Servings8 servings
Calories10 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time4 hours 15 minutes
Total Time4 hours 30 minutes


  • 1 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 to 1 cup fresh lime juice, (from 6 to 10 limes)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, (optional)


  • Toss the red onion and salt in a nonreactive bowl and stir in the lime juice. Set the mixture aside and let the ingredients hang out at room temperature for 30 minutes, stirring fairly frequently, until the onions begin to turn bright pink. At first the onions will be stiff so you’ll need to toss them with the lime juice frequently so as to expose as many of the onions to the lime juice as possible. But after a little while the onions will begin to collapse.
  • After half an hour, stir in the oregano and cumin, if desired.
  • Cover and refrigerate the red onions and the lime juice for at least 4 hours, stirring occasionally, before serving. (Any leftover pickled red onions—as if!—can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week. As for ideas what to do with your pickled onions, see the LC Straight Outta The Bowl note above and the Testers Choice comments below.)
The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen Cookbook

Adapted From

The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen

Buy On Amazon


Serving: 1 portionCalories: 10 kcalCarbohydrates: 3 gProtein: 0.3 gFat: 0.1 gSaturated Fat: 0.01 gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.02 gSodium: 292 mgFiber: 0.4 gSugar: 1 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2015 Shannon Bard. Photo © 2015 Ted Axelrod. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Yucatán, meet Baja! I was making Baja-style fish tacos and decided that these pickled red onions would be perfect to bump things up a bit. Wow, did they ever! I used my usual sour cream- and mayo-based Baja sauce but cut back on the amount of lime juice to compensate for the lime in the onions. I decided to use the onions instead of my usual slaw. The onions only took about 10 minutes to slice and assemble, followed by about 6 hours in the fridge. I used both the cumin and Mexican oregano. The sweetness and acidity of the pickled red onions enhanced the flavor of the fish and the sauce without overpowering them, and I loved their beautiful pink color. Can’t wait to try this with other dishes or on sandwiches. Perfect meal for a warm summer evening on the patio with an ice-cold beer!

Wow! Perfectly salty, crunchy, sweet, and sour, these pickled red onions are just wonderful and rival anything I can find at my local southern California taquerías. These pickled red onions would be a fabulous condiment for a summer BBQ or would make a great addition to tacos, burritos, quesadillas, or any other Mexican-style dish. I’m glad my local market was selling 10 limes for $1. I usually show restraint when using salt, but for this pickle, I added all the salt called for in the recipe. The flavors were fantastic and spot-on. The recipe yielded about 3 cups pickled red onions, which could easily serve 12 people with a generous 1/4 cup serving per person and even more in smaller portions. I tried these in a quesadilla and boy, was it good! I wouldn’t hesitate to make this simple pickled red onions recipe again.

This is one of those recipes that takes minimal effort and ingredients yet yields a side that really elevates whatever you’re serving. The fact that you can make it ahead just adds to the convenience of the dish. I used a manual juicer, so if you have an electric juicer the recipe will come together even more quickly. I used regular dried oregano, as I didn’t have Mexican on hand, in addition to the cumin, and I really enjoyed the seasoning in this dish. I served these pickled red onions with hot dogs. Hardly a fancy or impressive meal, but with the onions on top, the adults really enjoyed them. (My kids wouldn’t even try the pickled red onions, but that really wasn’t a surprise.)

This pickled red onions recipe was a snap to make. In less than 20 minutes, the sliced red onion was marinating in the fridge. The lime juice toned down the sharpness of the onion and provided a nice crisp flavor. The result was a crunchy onion with a lovely bite. I used Mexican oregano freshly picked from my garden and cumin. I used the pickled red onions as an accompaniment to sandwiches and pork. Sometimes I also eat them straight out of the bowl.

The pickled red onions only took me about 10 minutes to assemble, and I’ve used them on chicken and rice, a ham and cheese sandwich, and a lunch salad. I really like the acidic pop it adds to any dish. It’s been great to have something this simple and easy to perk up my work lunches.

I was delightfully surprised by this pickled red onions recipe. Since making these several days ago, I’ve been looking for all kinds of things to put them on. They’re delicious, not to mention a wonderful pink color. I cut down the amount of lime juice to 1 cup, which was about right for the size of my onion. Even though the onion made me cry when I was cutting it, the flavor wasn’t too sharp or spicy in the finished product. I added a bit of oregano and cumin, and the spices were a good combination with the lime and onion. After marinating the ingredients in a bowl for 30 minutes, I placed the entire mixture in a glass jar. I’ve since eaten them on avocado toast for breakfast, with smoked salmon, on lentil salad with feta, on watermelon salad with feta and arugula, and on a mixed green salad.

When we were out for brunch a couple of weeks ago, my husband ordered a bagel and lox platter with all the fixings, including pickled red onions, and I’ve had a hankering for those bright pink pickled red onions ever since. Thankfully this recipe satisfied my craving. These are delicious and easy to make. I refrigerated them overnight, and they had just the right amount of bite from the lime juice and earthiness from the oregano and cumin. I used a very large red onion, so my yield was approximately 2 cups. I haven’t been very creative in serving them—so far just in sandwiches and atop tuna salad—but they’re a great flavor booster in simple dishes.

These pickled red onions are bright, pretty, and so quick! While they have a natural place on tacos and warmly spiced meat dishes, they can also sparkle as an accent in a salad or on a chèvre crostini. A few minutes prep, a little time to be set aside, and then as little as a few hours or up to overnight in the refrigerator. A jar of these can last you a week. The lime juice has a nice, almost floral, note and was perfect, although if you want a slightly sweeter flavor, you can swap out part of the lime juice for some freshly squeezed orange juice. You can also use lemons if you’re short on limes, but the flavor will be more sour. I made 2 batches of this recipe: a half-batch of lime and a whole batch of lemon since I had a lot of lemons and not quite enough limes. The difference was noticeable, and while we preferred the lime version, both batches were good. The oregano and cumin flavors came through very well after a few hours, and if you’re serving the onions with tacos or other Mexican dishes, I‘d definitely use both. For other types of cuisine, you could play with different herbs and spices. We particularly love these pickled red onions on an open-face sandwich of smoked salmon over cream cheese or chèvre. Also in salads. I find that they pair particularly well with romaine and cheese (I’ve used them with Cheddar and also with fresh mozzarella) and are even better with some orange segments in the salad because the cumin plays well with the citrus flavor. The onions would also definitely work with feta, as the oregano pairs well there, or as an accent on crostini or open-face sandwiches. In addition, they’d make a great bright note on a white bean purée (both in terms of flavor and visual impact). Finally, try layering them in a baked egg dish for weekend brunch.

There are a million recipes out there for pickled red onions, and they’re all good. It’s just a matter of degree. I happen to really like this version, which keeps the flavors bright and simple by limiting the pickling liquid to lime juice and limiting the seasonings to salt, Mexican oregano, and cumin. A lot of pickled onion recipes have cloves or allspice in them, and personally, I’m not nuts about that flavor in pickles. But if you like cloves, by all means, add them. Regarding the amount of lime juice, with the prices on limes these days, why go overboard? You can use as little as 1/2 cup in this recipe with perfect results. Just stir the onions every hour or so while they pickle to make sure they are evenly coated. I found that 4 hours was plenty of resting time for the pickles to be ready for the table, but they will also keep for weeks in the fridge, so hold onto your leftovers. They’ll be a welcome addition to almost any taco.

What’s not to love about these quick and easy pickled red onions? Just 3 ingredients! Only 30 minutes! I made mine without the optional oregano and cumin but look forward to adding the herbs in a subsequent batch. I’d also like to try it with garlic and/or some hot peppers, both of which seem to me to be natural additions. I served the onions with a fork for tasting, and then alongside some tacos, but I think they’d pair well with almost any Mexican dish. One easy place to use them would be with the Mollettes, either as an additional side or in place of the pico de gallo or salsa. While my onions weren’t in Technicolor like the ones in the photo, one of the most appealing features of this particular pickle was the bright pink color.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    So simple and delicious! In making your posole salad, I was looking add some extra color to the salad as I made one variation on the protein. Last week, a friend of mine was ordering lunch and not sure if she would like the pickled onions. I told her I thought she would and she did, but when she tasted these pickled red onions, she said they have such flavor as the restaurant made ones had no flavor.

    1. Woo hoo, Lily! I’m delighted that you and your friends enjoyed this dish so much! And I agree…the pickle onions are killer.

  2. 5 stars
    Obsessed!! I love all pickled onions and these are sooooo good. I added a little extra Mexican oregano and they were perfect on our street tacos and even the kids loved them.

  3. Until I opened this post, I didn’t know I needed these pickled onions. I had all the ingredients on hand and will be adding them to my salad for tomorrow’s lunch. Yum!

    1. Elizabeth, we didn’t know we needed them, either, until we put them on fish tacos last summer. From that moment, everything changed. Lovely to be in such good tastes with our pickle preferences.