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A Good Reason to Make Your Own Ponzu (& Put Your Pantry Clean-Out on Hold)

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We know you're trying to clean out your pantries and your refrigerators, but resist that urge for just one more recipe! Make your own ponzu sauce, then use it to roast tofu and corn and dress a cold noodle salad.  

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There's been a lot of chatter recently—on the air, at our editorial meetings, in the company chatroom—about dregs.

Be they animal, vegetable, or mineral, we all have them: the 80% finished, so-close-yet-so-far remainders that are secreted away in the recesses of the pantry; loitering in the bottom corner of the refrigetor; or—heaven forbid—hunkered down amidst the ice cubes in the freezer tray. 

And while these dawdlers were not a nuisance a few weeks ago when why yes, that ancient eggplant chutney would make a piquant addition to the roasted cauliflower and that frozen fish is the freshest food in the kitchen right now, the time has come for them to go. Now that there's room to be made for the limited edition, one-month-only, market-exclusive apricots, tomatoes, and berries, we can't stop talking about cleaning out the pantry and reorganizing the crisper drawer. The urge to prune our collections is real and powerful.

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But now I'm going to tell you to buy bonito. And kombu. And mirin and rice vinegar. And lemons and limes. That's to make homemade ponzu. And I'm going to tell you to buy sesame oil and miso, too. Do you feel your refrigerator ballooning, your pantry cramping? Save some room for vegetables—corn, edamame, cabbage, scallions, cucumber—and herbs: basil and mint. 

If that sounds like a lot of ingredients for a cold noodle salad, that's because it is. Acidic and salty, with an ocean whiff from kelp and Katsuobushi, ponzu (the name translates to "vinegar punch") is on track to be your new favorite condiment. But a sauce so complex comes with a hefty ingredient list* and deserves a salad that will treat it well. Here, the ponzu acts as a marinade for corn and tofu, both of which get roasted, then does its duty as salad dressing. Tossed with slippery udon and a band of vegetables and herbs—some crunchy, some sweet, some oniony, some fresh—the ponzu is its most savory, most refreshing self. The salad itself shouldn't be crowded on your plate, but rather granted a bowl of its own as a self-contained meal. 

I recommend doubling the ponzu recipe and keeping a jar in your fridge, where it will last for several days. Use it to sauce cooked fish, to make your stir-fries more exciting, and to douse thinly sliced cucumber or tomato. Ponzu is going to help, not harm, your sacred summer produce. So yes, you'll have a jar of miso and some new bottles to call your friends. But just think of them as pathways to more ponzu—you'll be glad to hold on to the dregs. 

*Ponzu, traditionally, is made with just five ingredients: rice vinegar, mirin, Katsuobushi, kombu, and citrus juice. Since this recipe adds soy sauce, it is technically ponzu soy. 

Cold Noodle Salad with Ponzu Dressing and Miso-Roasted Corn and Tofu

Ponzu recipe slightly adapted from Saveur 

Serves 4 to 6

For the ponzu:

1/2 cup soy sauce or tamari (I used a reduced sodium version)
1/4 cup bonito flakes
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons mirin (sweet sake)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
One 2-inch piece kombu
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you want it spicier) 

For the noodle salad:

8 ounces udon noodles
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon yellow miso
12 ounces extra-firm tofu, pressed very well (I use this tool) and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 ears corn
1 cup cooked edamame
1 small head Savoy cabbage, cut into small ribbons, rinsed, and dried
1 cucumber, roughly chopped
3 scallions, green parts only, chopped
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, plus more for serving
Lime wedges, for serving
Basil and mint, torn, for serving

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Bobbi Lin

Tags: udon, noodle, cold noodle, ponzu, japanese, tofu, salad, cold noodle salad