The first few times I tried kimchi it was not, I must admit, my favorite food. Then I met my Korean-American partner, Gregory, moved in with his mom -- a superb cook -- and within a few months I was wholly converted. These days my mouth waters at the slightest whiff of pungent, fermented cabbage, and I'll eat it with everything from fried rice to dumplings to summer rolls. I even eat it straight out of the jar.

I still have a lot to learn from Mom when it comes to kimchi making (there are more than a hundred different kinds!) but this mak kimchi, or simple kimchi, recipe has been a great place to start.

Baechu, or napa cabbage, kimchi is made by lacto-fermentation, the same process that creates sauerkraut and traditional dill pickles. In the first stage, the cabbage is soaked in a salty brine that kills off harmful bacteria. In the second stage, the remaining Lactobacillus bacteria (the good guys!) convert sugars into lactic acid, which preserves the vegetables and gives them that wonderful, tangy flavor. (If you want to learn more about fermentation, I highly recommend "The Art of Fermentation" by Sandor Katz.)

While questioning my Korean family and friends about kimchi, I have received all kinds of opinions. Some cooks swear by a little bit of sugar, while others completely shun sweeteners. There are people who include carrots, and there are people who wrinkle their noses at the idea. I'm a vegetarian, and my mother-in-law happily makes fish- and shrimp-free kimchi for me, but I'm sure some would consider it blasphemy to leave out the seafood. (I like adding a bit of kelp powder for umami flavor.)

This can be confusing, but I think it's actually a good thing. It means that you and your family can make kimchi your own. Rely on your own sense of smell and taste and you'll end up with a fine batch. Two cautions from my mother-in-law, however: Too much garlic can make the kimchi bitter, and too much ginger can make it sticky. As for the gochugaru, or red pepper powder, adjust the amount to your liking. Kimchi can be mild or fiery; it's your choice.

How to Make Cabbage Kimchi

Makes 1 quart.

1 (2-pound) head napa cabbage

1/4 cup sea salt or kosher salt (see recipe notes)

Water (see notes)

1 tablespoon grated garlic (about 5-6 cloves)

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1 teaspoon sugar

2-3 tablespoons seafood flavor or water (optional, see notes)

1-5 tablespoons Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)

8 ounces Korean radish or daikon, peeled and cut into matchsticks

4 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

Equipment:

Cutting board and knife