I adapted this recipe from one I learned in a workshop at The Asian Culinary Forum in San Francisco with Huynjoo Albrecht, of CookingKorean.com. If you’ve only had commercial kimchi, which is sometimes overly salty and very spicy while lacking dimension, you’ll be surprised at the complexity of this version. Lightly fermented and spicy, to be sure, the nuances of the individual components come through in layers. If you’re worried about making it too spicy, start with less red pepper the first time you make it and see how you like it.
If you have access to a Korean market, buy the medium ground Korean red pepper powder for kimchi, which usually comes in a one-pound plastic bag. Make sure that it doesn’t have salt or other additives. You may also experiment with a milder cayenne pepper; a mild ground red chile, such as New Mexico; or Aleppo pepper, a mild red pepper used in Middle Eastern cooking that has a nice fruity flavor and a similar heat level to Korean pepper. This recipe is written for kosher salt. If you’re using a finer-grained sea salt, you will need to use about 25 percent less.
Adapted from "D.I.Y. Delicious" by Vanessa Barrington.
Dissolve 1 ¼ cups of the salt in 2 quarts of water. Test the proper amount of salt by gently placing an egg in the water. If it floats, the salt solution is perfect. If it sinks, add a little more salt.
Peel just the outer leaves from the cabbage and discard or compost them, and then, leaving it untrimmed, quarter it lengthwise through the root end, so the root holds each quarter together. Sprinkle 1 1/4 cups more salt between the cabbage leaves. Starting from the outer layer, lift each leaf and sprinkle salt on it, dividing the salt evenly, so that each layer of cabbage is salted. Put the cabbage in the salted water and place a weighted plate on top to keep it fully submerged.
Toss the grated radish in the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and let it drain in a colander while the cabbage soaks in its water bath.
The cabbage should soak until the heavy, white parts of the cabbage closest to the root end are pliable but not mushy. Try bending 1-2 leaves. If they break, the cabbage hasn’t soaked long enough. It should take 3 or 4 hours, depending on the room’s temperature. In the end, the cabbage should offer a little resistance but not break.
Remove the cabbage from the salted water and rinse it thoroughly under running water several times (this is important or your kimchi will be too salty). Squeeze lightly and place the cabbage quarters root-side up in a colander to drain. Drain for 1 hour. Rinse the daikon, squeeze out the excess moisture, and continue to drain it.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the onions, red pepper, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and sesame seeds.
Squeeze the drained cabbage to remove as much water as possible. Slice the cabbage crosswise into pieces about 1-1 ½ inches wide. Add it to the bowl with the seasonings. Add the drained daikon and toss to coat thoroughly.
Transfer the kimchi and its juices to a 1-quart, wide-mouth mason jar and push it down with a wooden spoon. Fasten the lid and let it sit undisturbed at room temperature for 4-5 hours, depending on the warmth of the room. Refrigerate for 2-3 days to let the flavors develop before eating. It should taste balanced, but spicy and lightly fermented. It keeps, refrigerated, for several months.