Tacos with Quick Pickled Onions

tacos with pickled onions

Ah, taco night.  Most families have one night a month (or week?) devoted to these tasty treats.  Tacos are pretty easy to make, usually please most picky eaters to some extent, and are a quick dinner.  I like to jazz up taco night by not involving the usual suspects — you know, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce.  Instead, our tacos have cilantro, radishes, and quick pickled red onions.  While my kids won’t touch the onions, they do like to create cilantro and lettuce mini-salads dressed in lime juice and the baby crunches away on fresh radishes.

Whatever way you like to serve your tacos, you still have to brown some ground beef and season it, right?  But, have you ever looked closely at the ingredients in that spice packet?  There is a lot more than just spice in there.

See below:

packaged taco seasoning -- eww!

Ingredients like silicon dioxide and ethoxyquin don’t sound like things I want to put in my body, and that is aside from the partially hydrogenated, chemically altered, oil listed.  Even if the packet says it contains less than 2% of this stuff, that is just 2% too much in my opinion.  My recipe is simple and has recognizable ingredients.  Plus, it is just as easy, if not easier, than buying an overpriced, chemical laden packet of spices.

Okay…so, let me step off my soapbox for a minute and also explain just how amazing tacos taste with pickled red onions on them.  Inspired by chefs like Rick Bayless, I decided I would quick pickle some onions a few years ago and add them to tacos.  The tart, salty-sweet taste is the perfect complement to a fried shell and richly spiced meat.  You have to try this!

So, what do you need to make these tacos:

1/2 Cup apple cider vinegar

1 Tbs sugar

1 1/2 tsp plus 1 tsp kosher salt, divided

1, thinly sliced red onion

1 lb ground beef

1-2 Tbs ground cumin

1-2 Tbs tomato paste

1/2-3/4 Cup water

1 tsp olive oil

thinly shredded iceberg lettuce

thinly sliced radish

chopped cilantro

sour cream

hot sauce

lime wedges

taco shells (either flour tortillas or corn shells lightly fried in vegetable oil or steamed)


pickled onion

First, bring your vinegar, sugar, and 1 1/2 tsp of salt to a boil.  Once it boils, pour it over your thinly sliced onions.  I like to put these into a mason jar, shake it up, and put it in the fridge.  You will need to let your onions sit in the brine for at least an hour in order to properly pickle the veg.  You could add other vegetables to this brine, too — thinly sliced carrots, jalapenos, even your radishes!

quick pickled onions

While your onions are pickling, heat your olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add your ground beef.  Brown your beef until completely cooked, then add your 1 Tbs cumin, reserved 1 tsp of salt, 1 Tbs of tomato paste, and 1/2 Cup of water.  Stir these ingredients in completely and let your meat simmer for at least 1/2 hour on very low heat.  If you need to add more cumin, tomato paste, or water, go for it.  Tailor it to suit your taste.  It won’t taste the same as the package of seasoning — it should taste better!

taco nightWhile your meat is cooking, prepare your taco fixin’s and your shells.  I like to lightly fry corn tortillas in vegetable oil.  To do this, I use a small skillet, add about 1/4 Cup of vegetable oil and bring it up to high heat.  I fry one tortilla at a time, flipping once, until they are lightly golden.  I set them aside on a paper towel to drain as much as possible.  If you don’t want to fry your tortillas, you can also steam them by wrapping them in moist paper towels, then wrapping the bundle of tortilla/paper towels in a tea towel and microwaving them for 1 minute.  Leave the tortillas wrapped until ready to serve.  You can do the same with flour tortillas to make them more pliable.

When your meat is done and your onions are completely pickled, dress your tacos with a bit of shredded lettuce, some cilantro, sliced radish, sour cream, a few of the onions, and a squeeze of lime.  Add some hot sauce, too, if you like it a little spicy.  Mmm…taco night without the preservatives and mystery ingredients.  Just real food that is really good.

tacos with quick pickled onions


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