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Take the plunge with chilled sauce for Asian noodles

It’s my stranded-on-a-desert-island food — noodles.

As often as I eat them — and as much as I love them — noodles do start to seem like reruns of my kitchen’s greatest hits. Carbonara. Puttanesca. Al Pomodoro. Pesto. Pad Thai. And more recently an Asian-style dish with a ginger-scallion sauce that’s delicious at room temperature.

Even better in summer’s swelter is dipping cold noodles into a chilled sauce, a tradition in Japan, particularly with soba. A recent lunch of these buckwheat noodles at Melange Eatery in Medford motivated me to make them more often at home and in more variations.

Next up is Mentsuyu, a Japanese dipping sauce. In addition to soba, it’s also savored with somen, white, thin wheat noodles. Learn about more types of Japanese noodles in my latest podcast.

This recipe’s kombu seaweed is becoming widely available in mainstream grocers. Find bonito flakes at Medford’s Asia Grocery Market or online.

The key to this sauce, according to Chicago Tribune food writer James P. Dewan, is the ratio between the ingredients. Of course, every cook will have his or her own ratio they swear is best. Trust your judgment and your taste and adjust the ratios as you see fit.

Mentsuyu (Japanese dipping sauce and soup base)

1/2 cup sake

1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

1 cup soy sauce

1 cup mirin

1 piece (2 inches square) kombu (optional)

1 cup bonito flakes

Water, as needed (see note)

In a small, heavy-bottom sauce pan, bring the sake and optional sugar to boil.

Add the soy sauce, mirin and kombu, if using. Heat to a boil.

Turn off heat, add the bonito flakes and allow them to settle to bottom of pan, for about 5 minutes.

Strain liquid into a clean bowl, dilute as needed with water and serve. Makes about 1 3/4 cups.

NOTE: For dipping noodles, you may want to dilute this sauce with up to an equal amount of water. You can also dilute it even more (up to 3 or 4 times), and then reheat to boiling to use as a broth for hot noodle soup. Use broth as is, or flavor with miso, ginger or sesame oil. Along with noodles, feel free to add shredded pork or chicken, tofu, mushrooms, green onions, boiled egg, spinach — whatever you think sounds good in soup.

Tribune News Service photo