I developed this recipe after I moved back home to Malaysia, where the nearest Korean grocery store is a 40-minute drive away from my house. Nearby restaurants are no good, either; their kimchi is missing that characteristic funk. So I made a version that used ingredients I could easily find at my local grocery store, and at most American grocery stores, as well. Is it authentic? Not exactly, but it stopped me from buying the store-bought stuff. The process still takes about 3 hours to make, and you have to wait 5 days (or longer) before you dig in, but make a bit batch like this and you'll see it's worth the effort.
And while you’re at it, since this is clearly unconventional, probably heretical, why not break a few more kimchi conventions along the way? Have it on toast with peanut butter—you won't regret it.
Want to hear more about Korean-American food? On our new podcast Counterjam—a show that explores culture through food and music—host Peter J. Kim talks instant ramyeun hacks, kimchi-jjigae, cheonggukjang, and more with chef Roy Choi and comedian Margaret Cho—check out the episode here. —Jun
- Makes about 3 quarts
whole napa cabbage (2-3 pounds)
1 1/2 tablespoons
glutinous/Thai rice flour (regular rice flour also works)
chili flakes, or more depending on how spicy you want it
cloves of garlic
thumb-sized knob of ginger
small yellow onion
a daikon radish
- Slice the cabbage into quarters. (The best way to do this is to slice the cabbage from the base up to about halfway up, then pull each half apart gently from the bottom. Repeat to get quarters.) Wash the cabbage quarters with water, and salt them well, sprinkling salt between each layer. Place cabbage quarters in a deep bowl, and let them sit for at least 2 hours or overnight, flipping them halfway to get them evenly salted.
- By the end of the salting process, the salt will have drawn out some water from the cabbage, and the cabbage quarters should be slightly limp. Wash and rinse them thoroughly with water, and squeeze out the excess water. (At this point, you can check the salt level of the cabbage by tasting it. If it’s too salty, rinse it under cold water a couple more times.)
- Now for some veggie prep. Slice/julienne the carrot and radish into roughly 3-inch-long matchsticks. Slice the scallions to roughly the same length too.
- Finely mince the garlic, ginger, and onion. (Alternatively, blend them all in a food processor.)
- To make the spice paste, start by mixing the glutinous rice flour, brown sugar, and water in a small pot. Bring it to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring often. Leave the paste to cool. Strain the liquid if there are any large clumps of flour in the paste.
- Add the garlic, ginger, onion, fish sauce, and chili flakes to the paste. Mix well until. Then add the carrots, radishes and scallions and mix until well incorporated. (Add a touch of water if the mixture becomes too stiff to combine.)
- Now for the fun part! (If you don’t want your hands feeling all numb and tingly from the chili, you might want to wear gloves for this step!) Spread the kimchi paste onto each cabbage quarter, make sure to lift each leaf individually to get the paste in between each layer. (DO NOT rub your eyes.)
- Fold the cabbage quarters in half lengthwise, then store in an airtight mason jar/container. Leave in a cool, dark place to ferment for 3-7 days. (It gets funkier the longer you leave it out. I like it after about 5 days.)
- Give it a taste after the fermentation period. If it’s to your liking, transfer to an airtight container to keep in the refrigerator. If you like your kimchi extra funky, however, leave it out for a few more days before storing in the refrigerator. They keep anywhere from 3-6 months. (Though it’s not uncommon to keep kimchi for much longer.)