You don’t have to be an expert at canning to make homemade pickles. Quick pickles can be made in as little time as it takes you to slices some veggies and bring a pot to a boil. These smoky pickled onions are a very forward and earthy addition to a cheese sandwich or a chopped salad. They are also fabulous on pâté.
The various combinations of vegetable and seasonings that can be applied to the making of quick pickles are endless. For this recipe, however, I have added Lapsang Souchong to the onions for a smoked flavour. Lapsang Souchong, for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a black tea that has been dried slowly over fire in wooden smoking sheds. Originally from the Wuyi Shan region of the Fujian province in China, this tea is also made in Taiwan, with notable differences in strength. Where the tea is made is not the only important difference. Production is one of two methods: a more large-scale, economical process and a more artisanal, traditional technique.
The artisanal method uses fresh, young tips of the early spring pluck, cold-smoked to preserve the terroir. Rarely for sale outside of China, the production of this type of smoked tea is limited to a single region and cannot be said to be properly made anywhere else, in the same way that champagne is only from the Champagne region. The type of Lapsang Souchong that most of us will drink is made of larger, more mature leaves that were semi-withered and then hot-smoked over a fire before the final drying stage. This tea is more robust, with a more pronounced smoky flavour, and for the purposes of this recipe, it is exactly what the doctor ordered.
As you can imagine, a smoky taste is a perfect complement to pickled onion. Vinegar, however, is a pungent preservative, and competes with any flavourings you might add to your quick pickles. I made the mistake of using a very high quality smoked black tea the first time I experimented with tea-scented pickles. Not only was it a waste of a rare, hand-processed tea (that was lovingly carried home to me from China), but the smoky flavour was overwhelmed by the vinegar. A waste of tea and onions, but never a waste of time to learn from your mistakes, however foolish.
I used a charred-tasting, heavy amber maple syrup to complement the tea, but you can use regular or even honey or sugar if you prefer. The tea is the thing.
Quick-Pickled Smoky Onions with Lapsang Souchong
- 2 cups of white wine or rice vinegar
- 2 cups of water
- 3 onions, sliced
- 1 oz Lapsang Souchong
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp amber maple syrup
Slice onions into pieces of a uniform size (as much as possible) and pack them tight into a clean mason jar, leaving a little room for tea. Bring water, vinegar, salt and syrup to a boil. Scatter tea atop the onions, then pour the brine until the jar is almost full.
Tap the jar on the counter or tilt it gently side-to-side to release any air bubbles trapped in the onions.
Let it come to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least one day before serving. They will keep well for two months refrigerated.
Sweet, salty and smoky, these are the first in a series of quick pickle recipes to come. But don’t wait for my suggestions. once you have the general principles, you can vary the vegetables, type of vinegar, and herbs and spices to your endless amusement, and be the darling of every summer picnic.
- let brine cool a bit for delicate vegetables or pickled vegetables will be soft rather than crisp
- Root vegetables may benefit from hot brine
- green beans, zucchini, carrots, radishes and garlic scapes all make fantastic pickles, with whatever fresh herbs or whole spices you like