Living in Wisconsin, my mother made cabbage kimchi with ingredients she got from a mainstream grocery store and the lone Asian grocery store in town that catered to Hmong immigrants. I'd eat kimchi at a Korean restaurant and think it's too fresh or it's too sweet, and I'd crave my mother's.
Now, all these years later, I find out from my mom how simple her recipe is. It's not overly spicy. The kimchi sauce just has onion, garlic, ginger, salted shrimp and kochukaru (Korean red pepper powder). Others might use Korean anchovy sauce or fish sauce and throw in carrots, Daikon radish, watercress, mustard greens or chives. But, I just wanted to make my mother's kimchi. —J. A.
Turn each Napa cabbage upside down. Make an incision through the core and then pry open the cabbage with your hands. Cut each cabbage half cross-wise in two-inch widths. Wash the cabbage in a sink filled with water. Spin dry.
In a large bowl, drop handfuls of cabbage in one layer. Sprinkle salt over the layer. Add more cabbage and sprinkle more salt. The cabbage will expel a lot of water. Disgorge overnight or for at least eight hours. Keep in the refrigerator.
Meanwhile, make the kimchi sauce. Mix kochukaru, garlic, ginger, onion and salted shrimp in a blender. Add 3/4 cup water and mix. The sauce should look like bright red sludge. Add more water if necessary. Cover and refrigerate.
After the cabbage disgorges, taste it. It should taste salty. Rinse the cabbage of excess salt. Rinse again if you think the cabbage is too salty. Drain for about 15 minutes. Cut the scallions and set aside.
Take out your kimchi sauce and taste it. Adjust seasoning. Then mix the sauce, scallions and cabbage in a large bowl with gloved hands.
Pack the kimchi in glass jars or stainless steel containers. Pour in any excess sauce to cover the kimchi. (Add more water if needed to cover the kimchi.) If there's space in the jar, lay plastic wrap right over the kimchi. Then tightly seal the containers with more plastic wrap.
Store kimchi containers in a dark place at room temperature for 24-48 hours before placing in the refrigerator. After four days, check on the kimchi and taste. (You can eat the kimchi right after you make it, but I prefer it to ferment longer.)
Add julienned carrots, watercress, mustard greens and Korean chives.
Others use Korean anchovy sauce instead of salted shrimp.
A couple notes:
*Kochukaru is pronounced goh-chu kah-roo with a rolled "r." Korean red pepper powder can be coarse or fine. Use either kind.
*Salted shrimp is pretty stinky. When you buy a jar, it may leak. That's why I transfer the salted shrimp into a glass jar and stick it in the freezer.