Anatomy of a Classic

Collard Kimchi

Collard greens replace cabbage in a chef’s Mississippi-influenced spin on kimchi

Photo: Johnny Autry

Adrienne Cheatham didn’t fully understand the beauty of kimchi until she began cooking professionally. The flavorful interplay of fermented cabbage and heat did more than just teach her about Korean cooking. It shot her right back to her childhood, when a funky condiment she knew as cha-cha—a.k.a. chowchow, the spicy pickled relish built from green tomatoes, cabbage, and peppers—was on kitchen tables in her Mississippi relatives’ homes. “It shows you how much different cultures have in common,” Cheatham says.

Cheatham’s mother was a white Midwesterner from Chicago who met her father, a black Southerner from Jackson, Mississippi, when both worked at the Oscar Mayer plant in Chicago. They married, and his family was concerned that his new wife wouldn’t know how to cook proper Southern food. So his grandmother Lula and two aunts traveled north with their cast-iron pans and some seeds for a garden.

“For a month and a half or two months, they showed my mother how to cook Southern food,” Cheatham says. “They really taught her the fundamentals of Southern cuisine, which is finding the food that is the freshest and closest to you.” The flavors and techniques have remained steady influences, whether Cheatham was working as executive sous chef at New York’s Le Bernardin or a contestant who almost won season 15 of Top Chef, or, now, as the creative force behind the SundayBest pop-up dinners she hosts in venues around Harlem, New York, where she lives, and other cities around the country. “Southern cuisine is the original American cuisine,” she says. “You had to preserve things without refrigeration and had all this great produce to work with.”

Johnny Autry

That ethos inspired her collard kimchi. Originally, Cheatham’s idea was to apply the Korean preservation technique to turnip greens in place of the napa cabbage that is the traditional base for the dish.  “But collards are such an integral part of the cooking I grew up with,” she says, “that I knew I had to use them for this.”

Blanching the collards first helps soften their fibrous leaves. Fermentation fed by a tablespoon of sugar does the rest. The base recipe comes together quickly but requires time for the real magic to happen. Leave the jars in a cool, dark place for a few days and taste the collards once small bubbles begin to form. You can eat the kimchi then, or leave it for a few more days to give it more punch. Then transfer the batch to the refrigerator, which slows the fermentation.

Johnny Autry

Cheatham uses the tiny salted fermented shrimp called saeujeot, an ingredient that’s available at markets with a large selection of Asian ingredients or online, but they’re not necessary if you can’t find them. “As long as you have the fish sauce for flavor and funk, you’re good,” she says.

The collards add character to a simple supper of shrimp and rice, or work well with grilled meat. But Cheatham’s favorite pairing is with fried chicken or good barbecue.

“You might never go back to coleslaw,” she says. 


    • 2 lb. collard greens, washed well

    • ¼ cup gochugaru (Korean red chile flakes)

    • Scant ¼ cup fish sauce

    • ¼ cup minced ginger

    • 1 tbsp. minced garlic

    • 2 tsp. minced saeujeot (salted fermented shrimp), optional

    • 1 tbsp. sugar

    • 1 cup julienned daikon radish

    • 1 cup julienned carrot

    • 4 scallions, cut in half lengthwise and into 1-inch pieces


  1. Fill a large stockpot or Dutch oven just over halfway with water and season heavily with salt. Heat on high to boil. Meanwhile, slice the collards by stacking 3–4 leaves and rolling them like a cigar, keeping the stems straight. Start at the top of the leaves and slice crosswise into thin ribbons; discard the extra stems beyond the base of the leaves.

  2. Have a large bowl of ice water ready (large enough to sit a colander in). Place all of the greens into the boiling water and stir to cook evenly. Blanch collards for about 3–4 minutes, or until just tender but still bright green. Strain through a colander and immediately place the colander into the bowl of ice water, stirring the collards to chill.

  3. Drain the collards and gently squeeze out excess moisture with a kitchen towel.

  4. Combine the gochugaru, 2 tbsp. water, fish sauce, ginger, garlic, saeujeot (if using), and sugar in a bowl and stir to make a paste. Set aside for about 10 minutes.

  5. Place collards in a large, clean bowl. Toss with the daikon, carrots, and scallions, adding a pinch of salt if needed. Add the seasoning paste and use your hands to mix evenly into the greens.

  6. Place mixture in sterilized jars with lids. Store in a cool, dark place, checking for the bubbles that will begin to appear in the bottom of the jars, usually in 2–3 days. Taste, and if desired, loosen lids and leave to ferment for a few more days. Place in the refrigerator and let kimchi mature for 1–2 weeks (although it can be eaten anytime, it’s best after the flavors have had time to develop).

Meet the Chef: Adrienne Cheatham


Favorite time of day:
Morning, and her first cup of coffee. “I get my mind right for the day. I like the chicory coffee from New Orleans. My husband and I keep big bags of Community Coffee
in the house.”

The kitchen tools she would hate to lose:
A set of pots her mom gave her and a rusty cast-iron skillet she found on the street in Harlem. “I took it home, scrubbed it out, and reseasoned it, and it’s been my baby ever since.”