For the stock:
1 batch Asian-Style Stock or 3 cups store-bought vegetable stock
To begin the stew:
2 medium onions, cut into wedges
2 tablespoons ark sesame or soy oil
3 medium carrots, peeled and roll cut into 1-inch pieces
2 celery ribs, cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces
1 (6-inch) piece gobo (burdock root), scrubbed and roll cut, or matchsticks (optional)
2 cups fresh mushrooms, halved, quartered, or left whole, if small
1 yam, cut into quarters lengthwise, then into 1/2-inch sections (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup turnip or daikon, cut like the yam (optional)
1 medium potato, scrubbed and cut like the yam (about 1 cup; optional)
5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 inch fresh ginger, finely grated
For the sauce:
1/4 cup barley, whole wheat, or white flour
5 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 1/2 cups of the stock, heated
5 tablespoons red miso mixed with 1/2 cup stock
Soy sauce, to taste
To complete the stew:
3 tablespoons dark sesame oil
3 tablespoons light sesame oil
1 block firm tofu, pressed, drained, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
to 6 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
Fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
Chinese pepper (Szechuan pepper) or black pepper
Make the Asian-Style Stock. After 20 minutes, pull out the dried mushrooms, remove the tough stems (if any), cut the caps into thick slices or quarters, and set aside.
You needn’t use all the vegetables listed, so see what you have on hand and pick 5 or 6 of the vegetables to use in the dish.
Cook the onions in the sesame oil in a large, heavy-bottomed stew pot over medium-high heat. Stir frequently and cook until they start to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, reserved mushrooms from the stock (if you were using them) and the remaining vegetables (of your choice). Stir to coat with a thin film of oil. Salt lightly, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and reduce heat to low. Check occasionally to make sure there’s enough liquid in the bottom of the pot so that the vegetables do not burn. Add a little stock or water if necessary.
Make the sauce. Toast the barley flour in a dry saucepan over medium heat until fragrant, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Add the sesame oil, stir to blend thoroughly, then slowly whisk in the stock. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to produce a medium-thick sauce. Remove from heat, add the diluted miso, and season with soy sauce. Add the sauce to the stewing vegetables and stir gently to combine. (The stew may seem dry at this point, but the vegetables will continue to release their juices as they cook). Return lid to the pot and continue to simmer on low.
Heat 2 tablespoons of each oil in a skillet or wok until hot. Add the tofu and saute over medium heat until lightly golden. Combine the tofu with the stewing vegetables.
Add the remaining oil to the skillet and sauté the scallions just until their fragrance blooms. Stir them gently into the stew, taking care not to break the tofu. Continue cooking until all the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and Chinese pepper. If you can get it, the Chinese pepper is exquisitely aromatic. Otherwise, make use of what you have.
To make the Tofu-Miso Stew with Sage Biscuits: Make sure the completed stew is hot from cooking on top of the stove, place it in a casserole dish, and cover the top with unbaked Sage Biscuits (recipe below). (You may have extra biscuit dough, which you can bake separately.) Bake at 375°F until the tops are browned, 15 to 20 minutes.
Photo: Joe Lingeman