The Homemade Kimchi Recipe You've Been Waiting For

The first time I had kimchi, it was so intensely spicy that it felt like I was coughing out of my eyeballs. But, despite the shocking rush of intense heat and strong fermented sourness, I found myself reaching for more, taking bigger bites, and putting it on almost everything that came out of the kitchen. Soon, I was fantasizing about kimchi all the of the time. Fast forward a few years, and I was psyched to find jarred kimchi at my local supermarket. But, then when I got home and opened the jar, I was disappointed that it smelled a lot like feet. I shrugged off my hesitation (some cheeses smell like gym socks, and they're awesome!) and took a huge bite. The store-bought kimchi was…well, kinda gross. 

This experience prompted me to look into making my own homemade kimchi. If you don't already know, kimchi is the ultimate Korean staple. I really wanted to go authentic with this, so I went on a hunt for a Korean grandmother with a family recipe going back generations. Lucky for me (and now all of us), a Refinery29 colleague, Sarah, called up her grandmother in Korea and got this delicious recipe, which has been handed down over five generations. (OK, fine! Her grandmother lives in New Jersey and she created the recipe herself, but she was born and raised in Seoul, and she is a real-life Korean grandma.) The point is that I made it at home and the results were excellent — even better than what I had at my local Korean restaurant. A few words of advice about this recipe:

— It takes time, so go into it expecting a project, and be patient. 
— I recommend getting some of the harder-to-find ingredients online and having them delivered to your door. Less stress for you.
— Get some latex gloves to mix the cabbage and the spices. Otherwise, your hands will get stained and your skin might start to burn off. (I learned this the hard way.)
— Make sure you allow the kimchi to ferment at room temperature. If you put it in the fridge, it won't work.

Read on for the complete recipe, and get excited to start putting kimchi on everything.
Photo: Sarah Dea/Getty Images.

Homemade Kimchi

2 cups of water
2 heads of Napa cabbage, quartered
4 tbsp of salt and 1 to 2 tbsp for sprinkling
1 radish, matchsticked
1/4 onion, sliced
2 tbsp of salted shrimp
2 1/2 cups of Gochugaru (Korean red chili pepper flakes) 
2 tbsp of sugar
2 tbsp of apricot extract
1/2 pear, matchsticked
15 cloves of garlic
2 pieces of ginger (about the same size as a garlic clove)
15 scallions, thinly sliced 
1/3 cup of fish sauce
5 tbsp of rice flour

1. Cut cabbage into fourths. Mix 15 cups of water and the 4 tablespoons of salt in basin/large bowl. Place cabbage in saltwater until thoroughly soaked, about 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Take the cabbage out and fan out the leaves, sprinkling the remaining salt in between the layers. Transfer to another basin and pour the leftover saltwater over the cabbage. Let sit to soften. Flip the cabbage after two hours so that it softens evenly. Let sit for another 2 to 3 hours. Total wait time should be about 5 hours.

3. While step 2 is happening, start making the seasoning/paste for the kimchi. Combine onion, ginger, garlic, and a little bit of water in a mixer and blend well so that it becomes a paste.

4. Then, in a pot over the stove, stir the rice flour with the 2 cups of water and warm over medium heat, stirring all the time. Bring to a boil while stirring, then let stand it stand for 1 to 2 minutes to thicken and become glutinous. Combine with the onion, garlic, and ginger paste and mix together well.

5. Add in the chili flakes, fish sauce, salted shrimp, apricot extract, sugar, and pinch of salt, and blend together well.

6. Chop radish, scallion, and pear into thin strands and cut scallions into 3 cm pieces.  

7. Take some of your paste and, with your hands (preferably in gloves), coat the radish, scallion, and pear until they are evenly coated. 

8. Rinse cabbage to remove any salt and dirt (you might have to do this about three times). Position the cabbage upside down, so that the water can drip out of the leaves. Leave it in a colander to drip and dry for about 10 minutes. 

9. Lift the cabbage layers one by one and spread the chili seasoning all over the cabbage (again, using gloves). 

10. Put all the coated cabbage pieces into a large jar or plastic container and make sure everything is coasted evenly with the seasoning. Put saran wrap over cabbage before closing the lid so that the mixture doesn't dry.

11. Leave jar out in room temperature for at least one full day to ferment and then put in the refrigerator. Depending on personal kimchi taste preference, wait as necessary before enjoying.  

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