Sometimes I forgot that the steps in most recipes are suggestions rather than rules. The recipe seems so authoritative that I ignore all the ways the dish could more flavorful, or steps that can be abbreviated. I don’t question the necessity of steps or ingredients that don’t enough to justify the added difficulty. I forget that there must be an easier way to make the same dish on a regular basis, saving the more complex version for special occasions And I end up cheating myself, relegating the dish to the made-it-once category instead of trying to simplify and make the dish easy to repeat.
I used to follow a complicated recipe for pickled red onions and as a result, I almost never made them. The process was long and messy and had to be repeated three times. It left my kitchen perfumed with the choking smell of vinegar from it simmering on the stove. It wasn’t worth it even though the onions were delicious and good on everything we tried them with to boot. I never even thought to change up the recipe until a friend served a very close fascimile of those same pickles, except they didn’t need any heat or much time at all. I cheated myself out of these pickles for months because I forgot my own first rule of cooking – the recipe is not always right.
Playing fast and loose with recipes doesn’t always work out as well as these pickles. Sometimes the result of my experimentation isn’t pretty or the cake falls or it ends up mediocre rather than delicious. But often it ends up almost as good as the original and much easier to put together. I learn new things about how ingredients work together or flavors that blend surprisingly well. And sometimes I end up with a new favorite.
- Pickled Red Onions
- Makes about two cups
- Given the ubiquitous presence of red onions all year round and the fact that these go well with everything, from grilled cheese to burgers to stew, this is a staple recipe you can make all year long.
- 2 cups, packed, thinly sliced red onion (this is about equal to one medium or half of one large red onion)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbs whole peppercorns
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- STUFF the onion slices into a 2-cup container. They should be packed in tightly at this point and maybe stick out a little over the top of the container – they'll soften and fit better after soaking in the vinegar.
- ADD the bay leaves and peppercorns to the container
- COMBINE the vinegar with the salt and sugar in a separate container. Stir them around until the salt and sugar dissolve.
- POUR the vinegar mixture over the red onions and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. If the onions are still above the vinegar line, poke them down after about 15 minutes so they all fit below the vinegar. After 30 minutes you can serve them or store them in the fridge for several weeks and just grab what you want.