Some foods are specific to certain regions and states of India. Pickled whole pearl onions are one such food / accompaniment that is very popular in north India and you will find it served in almost every restaurants serving north Indian food, especially the Punjabi restaurants. And interestingly they are always on the house! Just as purified water is served free of charge in most restaurants (unless you asked for bottled water) here, so are these pickled onions and yogurt mint & coriander chutney. They pep up and add a zing to the food therefore they are much loved by most people and enjoyed with tandoori (grilled) food and also curries and lentil preparations.
I have been making pickled onions at home since long but always with beets. One, because I love how the beets bleed their beautiful intense ‘garnet’ colour into the liquid and lend it to the onions. And the other reason is, because everyone in the house appreciates beets better this way. No one enjoys the earthy flavours of the beets in their raw form but we love them when it gets cooked, such as in this salad or in this blitz and bake egg-free cake and even as a dip. We enjoy it chilled in a tall glass of lassi during summers. Since we can’t be eating cake everyday or a salad for that matter, so pickled beets it is. We have it with our curries and dals. Basically, if you take a closer look look at all the recipes where we enjoy the beets, none of them is consumed ‘hot’. So, you won’t find us having a hot beetroot soup or a beetroot curry or even fritters. For us, beets are enjoyable only when they used in bakes or when they have tangy notes added to them.
Why this particular accompaniment is popular and loved even by kinds is because the onions, when picked (whole in this case), in a mix of vinegar, water, sugar and salt lose their intense pungent taste, while the beets lose their gritty, dirt like, earthy flavour and instead take on the sweet (since I prefer to add some sugar) and sour (from vinegar) flavours that is so delicious and addictive. The onions and beets, both, work as great accompaniment with not just the Indian curries but equally well with burgers/ sliders and sandwiches/ wraps and also in salads. We, therefore, always have a bottle of pickled beets and onions, sitting at home in the fridge 😊
500 gm Beetroot
150 – 200 gm Pearl Onions
300 ml White Vinegar (I always use brewed white vinegar which is less sharp than synthetic vinegar…so the amount will vary in that case)
¾ C Purified Water
2 tsp Salt (I use pink salt)
2 – 4 tbsp Brown Sugar (adjust to taste)
Remove ends of the onions and peel the onions. Wash the onions and dry them, using a kitchen towel. set aside.
Add the sugar and salt in a clean mixing bowl and pour the water and vinegar. (Add the sugar tablespoon by tablespoon, checking for the desired sweetness after every addition)
Stir everything well to ensure that the sugar and salt is completely dissolved.
Tip in the onions and chopped beets.
Keep the onions and beets immersed in the liquid for a couple of hours.
Then transfer them in washed and sterilized jars.
Top them with the liquid, and store in the fridge.
The pickle would be ready to eat after 24 hours of soaking in the vinegar solution.
(It would stay for a week to ten days, refrigerated) Enjoy!
Note – Having said that, I always add sugar because we find the taste of vinegar intensely sour and puckering.
Note – I usually add four tablespoons of brown sugar.
Note – In case you are unable to get your hands on pearl onions, you can use regular onions and thickly slice them or halve them and cut them in roundels before adding them to the vinegar.
Note – You can also add aromatics of your choice to the pickle, if you desire. (Bay leaves, cloves, black pepper corns, yellow mustard seeds to name a few) They can be added to water, boiled and then cooled before adding to other ingredients.
Note – Carrots and radish can be pickled in the same manner. The sturdier the veggie, the longer it will last in vinegar and if you intend to use leafy veggies like cabbage, it needs to be consumed within a couple of days of pickling.
Note – I sometimes add a few green chilies, roughly chopped, to soak with the onions and beets. They usually last for two-three days and post that, they lose their texture and also their intense colour.