The Seville orange (or bitter orange) is prized for making British orange marmalade, being higher in pectin than the sweet orange, and therefore giving a better set and a higher yield. Once a year, oranges of this variety are collected from trees in Seville and shipped to Britain to be used in marmalade. Mexican pickled onions are a simple Mexican preparation made by quick pickling onions in a mixture of citrus juice and/or vinegar, and/or spices. These red pickled onions are called in Mexico cebollas curtidas, cebollas rojas en escabeche, cebolla desflemada, or cebolla en vinagre…various names but they all mean the same. In the Yucatan pickled onions and cochinita pibil are made with juice from Seville oranges, a juicy citrus that has a uniquely bitter, astringent flavor, with bracing acidity and very little sweetness. It’s one of the most distinctive flavors of Yucatecan cuisine. You can sometimes find them in Latin markets but if not, you can rely on blending other citrus juices to approximate their flavor and aroma.
Flavoring Quick Pickled Vegetables
- Fresh herbs: dill, thyme, oregano, and rosemary hold up well
- Dried herbs: thyme, dill, rosemary, oregano, or majoram
- Garlic cloves: smashed for mild garlic flavor, or sliced for stronger garlic flavor
- Fresh ginger: peeled and thinly sliced or grated
- Whole spices: mustard seed, coriander, peppercorns, allspice, red pepper flakes, bay leaves
- Ground spices: turmeric or smoked paprika are great for both color and flavor, allspice or mace for sweet fruity flavor
As you can see, there is a large universe of possibilities, enough for a lifetime of experimentation. I personally find that while whole spices work well in regular pickling, not so much with quick pickling.
- 1 red onion, sliced vertically
- freshly grated ginger to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- About 1/3 cup juice from 1 grapefruit
- 1/3 cup juice from 1 to 2 oranges
- 1/3 cup juice from 2 to 4 limes
The bitter orange taste is approximated by the combination of grapefruit, orange and lime. If you don’t care if the final onions are red, you can use regular onions. The original recipe for Mexican quick pickled onions uses Mexican oregano, I prefer the more floral notes of allspice and ginger. Feel free to experiment with the recipe, for instance by adding hot peppers and/or salt. I left out salt since we avoid salt due generally for health reasons.
This is a pretty simple recipe, probably the most involved process is cutting the onions into long ribbons. I find that cutting the onion in half vertically and then using a mandolin accomplishes this with the least effort. You can also use a knife but the pieces will be less uniform.
Whenever I use citrus, I always zest the fruit to get the most flavor out. I suggest you do the same. I personally grate the ginger on a microplane.
Put the onion pieces in the vessel and cover with the liquid composed of grapefruit, orange and lime, seasoned with allspice, pepper and ginger. Don’t worry if a little sticks out, you can stir it as time goes on. No need to heat anything up or cook anything, in fact we want the onions to remain crisp. In about 15–30 minutes, the onions will be ready, they get better over time. They will last about 2–3 weeks in the refrigerator. The liquid and the onions will turn bright pink or red over time. In Mexico, they sometimes add beets to enhance the color although I personally find it unnecessary.