Sweet and Tangy Red Onion Pickle

This recipe was inspired by Judy Rogers, now the chef at San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe. Spiced with Szechwan peppercorns, rice vinegar, and garlic (instead of the more Western pickling seasonings Judy uses), these crunchy and spicy pink onion rings are a visual knockout.

I look for onions that are smallish and very round, with a thin dry skin. These yield rings that slice cleanly and are pleasantly thick, but are still small and thin enough to be twisted into attractive piles. Onion pickle lasts for a week or more if kept in the refrigerator.


  • 1 pound small or medium-size firm red onions, round or torpedo shape (not flat)
  • ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar
  • 6 to 7 tablespoons sugar
  • Scant ¼ teaspoon dried red chili flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon Szechwan peppercorns
  • 3 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled


  1. Remove the ends of the onions, peel, then cut into even rings inch thick. Carefully separate the outer rings, removing the white membrane if loose. Central clusters may be left intact for a nice mouthful.
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a non-aluminum, heavy 2½- to 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then simmer 3 minutes to infuse. Taste and adjust with a dash more sugar or chili if desired.
  3. Add the onions, reduce the heat to low, and toss with chopsticks or the handle ends of wooden spoons until the onions turn pink and soften and the liquid simmers, 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape the mixture into a shallow bowl. Refrigerate, uncovered, until cool, stirring occasionally. When cool, seal airtight. The onions will keep for 1 to 2 weeks if refrigerated.
  4. Serve chilled or as a garnish, twisted into figure-eights. Remove the garlic and peppercorns and garnish with a bit of the juice.