Why This Recipe Works: Kimchi is a Korean pickle of fermented vegetables, typically napa cabbage and scallions, and sometimes leeks, radishes, and carrots. The fermentation process gives kimchi its signature flavor. We first salted the cabbage to remove excess water. For flavor, we made a paste of garlic, ginger, Korean chili powder, sugar, fish sauce, and soy sauce—this brought complexity and heat. We limited our vegetable selection to napa cabbage, scallions, and carrots. To eliminate air pockets and keep the cabbage submerged in its juices, we placed a plastic bag of water on top; we used two bags to help prevent it from leaking.
The ideal environment for fermenting is between 50 and 70 degrees (do not ferment above 70 degrees). The fermentation temperature will affect the timing and flavor of the kimchi; warmer temperatures will ferment more quickly and produce sharper flavors. For a balanced flavor, we prefer a fermentation temperature of 65 degrees. You can find Korean chili powder (which has a mild, fruity flavor) at Asian markets and online. If Korean chili powder is unavailable, you can substitute 1/3 cup red pepper flakes.
Prep: 30 minutes
Salt: 1 hour
Ferment: 9-20 days
Yield: about 2 quarts
1 (2 1/2-pound) head napa cabbage, cored and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 1/2 teaspoons canning and pickling salt
20 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup Korean chili powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped coarse
16 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
1. Toss cabbage with salt in bowl, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Transfer cabbage to colander, squeeze to drain excess liquid, and return to now-empty bowl. Cut out parchment paper round to match diameter of 1/2-gallon wide-mouth jar.
2. Process garlic, chili powder, sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, and ginger in food processor until no large pieces of garlic or ginger remain, about 20 seconds. Add chili mixture, scallions, and carrot to cabbage and toss to combine. Tightly pack vegetable mixture into jar, pressing down firmly with your fist to eliminate air pockets as you pack. Press parchment round flush against surface of vegetables.
3. Fill 1-quart zipper-lock bag with 1 cup water, squeeze out air, and seal well. Place inside second zipper-lock bag, press out air, and seal well. Place bag of water on top of parchment and gently press down. Cover jar with triple layer of cheesecloth and secure with rubber band.
4. Place jar in 50- to 70-degree location away from direct sunlight and let ferment for 9 days; check jar daily, skimming residue from surface and pressing to keep mixture submerged. After 9 days, taste kimchi daily until it has reached desired flavor (this may take up to 11 days longer; cabbage should be soft and translucent with a pleasant cheesy, fishy flavor.)
5. When kimchi has reached desired flavor, remove cheesecloth, bag of water, and parchment, and skim off any residue. Serve. (Kimchi and accumulated juice can be transferred to clean jar, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 months; once refrigerated, kimchi will continue to soften and develop flavor.