It's been really interesting to see how Korean food has become pretty huge in the food scene over the past few years. I grew up eating bibimbap, kalbi, kimchi and all of that good stuff at home, so seeing these dishes pop up all over New York City in high-end Jean-Georges restaurants as well as the humble corner bodega has been so fun to watch and experience. Korean food is being reinterpreted in so many creative ways, from Momofuku's Kimchi Puree to Danji's Bulgogi Beef Sliders, but at the end of the day, you can't beat traditional Korean food made at home by your mother whose connection with the food is the real deal.
And for those of you who have Korean mothers, you know that once she gets an idea into her head, there's no stopping her. So when my mother came out to New York for a visit and saw that I had no kimchi at home, the only practical solution would be to make some. From scratch. In my teeny tiny New York City kitchen. I protested wildly–living in New York City means that I have access to a number of Korean markets where I could easily pick up a jar–but you know who won that argument. So here we go, I am now very happy to share with you a version of my mom's very own kimchi. There are so many different ingredients you can add to enhance the taste, but my mother opted for simplicity in this case, which is probably a good thing for me and you!
2 heads of Napa Cabbage, cut into 2" pieces
1 small Asian radish, peeled
1 bunch of daepa (a Korean leek), or scallions, chopped diagonally into 1/2 inch slices
1 bulb of garlic
1 2-inch piece of ginger root
2 cups of Korean chili powder
1 spoonful red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cup of Kosher salt
1/2 cup fish or anchovy sauce
1 small carrot, peeled
4 large shrimp, deveined and peeled
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup Japanese sake
Step 1 Wash the chopped cabbage and start to layer it sheets in a large bucket. Don't drain all the water, allow the cabbage to remain wet. After each layer, cover generously with salt, so that all the cabbage gets salted.
Let it marinate for 3 hours. Then move the bottom layers of cabbage to the top, and vice versa. Let marinate for 2 more hours.
Step 2 While you wait, combine the radish, garlic, ginger, shrimp, carrot, onion, fish sauce, and sake in a food processor until finely pureed. If you don't want to use shrimp, you can substitute beef or chicken stock, about 1 cup. Remove from food processor and fold in Korean chili powder and red pepper flakes into the mixture.
Step 3 When the cabbage is fully marinated, it should be soft and wilted but still crunchy. Taste the cabbage–it should on the salty side. Marinate for longer, if needed. Then wash cabbage throughly and allow to drain in a large colander for an hour until all the water has come out.
Step 4 Combine the drained cabbage and radish mixture in a large bowl, mixing thoroughly. Add the honey and scallions. Season to taste, adding more chili powder if you want your kimchi spicier, or more fish sauce if it needs more flavor. Make sure to sample the leafy parts as well as the denser parts of the cabbage. The leafy parts will be saltier, so use them to gauge the taste. It should be salty with a good spicy kick, and smell fishy.
Step 5 Transfer the seasoned cabbage into a 1-gallon jar, pressing kimchi firmly down as you fill. Leave a little room at the top since juices will begin to form.
Let the cabbage sit in room temperature overnight. Leave out for longer if you want it to be well-ripened before eating, though many people enjoy kimchi when it is still a little unripe. The kimchi will continue to ferment, so try eating it at its different stages. Transfer to the refrigerator until chilled and then enjoy!