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Dressed up onions

Soft, sweet and unctuous, these gorgeous sweet-sour onions are more forgiving than traditional ‘naked’ pickled onions. Spiced up with the intoxicating mix of Harissa spices you’ll find they’ll be soul-mates to pretty well anything savoury. For different tones or heat, replace Harissa with freshly toasted and ground caraway seeds or Wasabi for aromatic fiery onions.


Have ready a large pan of simmering water. Snip the tops and rooty ends of the onions. Plunge the onions, with skins on, into a pan of simmering water. Bring to the boil and cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and drain, reserving 100ml of the oniony water. When cool enough to handle, whip off the softened skins.

Put the oniony water, the sugar and the vinegars in a saucepan. Place over gentle heat stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil. Remove from heat.

Heat the oil in a large heavy based frying pan or shallow saucepan. Add the onions, swirling them around to cover with oil. Cook gently for 4-5 minutes until they colour up a little. Sprinkle with a tablespoon sugar, shaking the pan to cover the onions with the sugar. Add the Harissa and the salt, shaking the pan to distribute evenly. Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Pour over the vinegar mixture and add the bay leaves. Bring to simmering point for a couple of minutes then remove from heat.

Pack the onions (along with the bay leaves if using) tightly into warm, sterilised jam jars. Cover with the hot vinegar mix and seal with vinegar proof lids. You can use any of the leftover sweet-sour oniony syrup in winter stews or hearty soups.

No need to mature. Use within 12 months. Best kept in the fridge once opened.

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Makes 3 x 400ml jars

  • 1kg pickling onions or small shallots
  • 1 tablespoon olive, rapeseed or sunflower oil
  • 100g dark soft brown sugar, plus one good tablespoonful
  • 200ml cider vinegar
  • 50ml balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Harissa powder or paste
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 dried bay leaves (optional)

This recipe is taken from...

River Cottage HQ