Recipe: Tofu-Miso Stew Casserole with Sage Biscuits

updated Jan 31, 2020
Recipe Review
Tofu-Miso Stew

It tastes and feels like a chicken pot pie, but instead it's a pile of veggies doused in a rich miso gravy.

Serves6

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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

“Biscuit-topped” is one of my favorite word combinations. In cookbooks, it is the friend I’m always delighted to run into. Oh, hi there, are you a hearty stew plush with grounding root vegetables and maybe handfuls of tender slow-cooked chicken, all hanging out under a blanket of warm biscuits? Let’s be friends.

Four years ago, I stumbled into an accidental tradition. Once the weather starts edging towards fall, the nights stretching until they brush against the late afternoon, I make the biscuit-topped tofu miso stew from The Tassajara Cookbook. The cookbook is written by Edward Espe Brown, a celebrated chef who just happens to also be a Buddhist priest.

I grew up on heavier casseroles, brimming with meats and cheeses and cream. This casserole turned the whole concept on its head for me. It tastes and feels like a chicken pot pie, but instead it’s a pile of veggies doused in a rich miso gravy. Whole-wheat flour, homemade stock, miso paste, and dark sesame oil fill in for cheese and cream, binding the ingredients together into this totally satisfying mess of carrots, turnips, and mushrooms, dotted with pops of spicy fresh ginger.

This is, for my life, not a weeknight recipe, which I recently learned the hard (and hungry) way. It’s a three-step process and the steps are fairly involved: not difficult, just time consuming. But trust me, the results are so worth it. And if you make it on a Sunday night, it can easily become multiple meals.

Break the Rules, Casserole Rebel

The tofu-miso stew starts with a homemade vegetable stock. If you’re going to skip a part of this process, this is the one to cut. You can easily sub in a pre-made vegetable stock, which you could also dress up with some of the flavoring from this recipe like ginger, sesame oil, and tamari.

I typically use plain soy sauce instead of tamari and regular sesame oil instead of dark sesame oil, simply because that’s what I often have on hand.

Adding sage to the biscuits gives them an herby, perfume-y smell and almost cheesy umami taste, but I usually replace fresh sage with sesame seeds to highlight the sesame flavor. Also, who has a random pile of fresh sage around? Sadly not me.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Clean Out Your Veggie Drawer

I approach this recipe with one question: What’s in my fridge? This recipe really encourages that attitude.

“You needn’t use all the vegetables listed, so see what you have on hand or readily available and pick 5 or 6 of the vegetables to use in the dish,” says Edward Espe Brown in the second paragraph of the recipe. I’ve used leeks, kale ribs, varying amounts of potatoes, and the results are always great. The miso sauce and the sautéing and baking process will tame any vegetable, and bring slightly sad produce back to life.

When I make the homemade stock, I also always incorporate the leftover vegetables from the stock into the stew. Unlike the remains of a broth that simmers all day, the stock veggies here only simmer for 25 minutes, so they still have plenty to offer if you tuck them under a layer of biscuits.

Heed This Crucial Biscuit Advice

When you make the biscuits, don’t drop them on top or keep them piled high. You need to pat these down flatter than you would if you were baking them separately or the centers, influenced by the stew underneath, stay too gooey and the baking time runs too long, leading to either undercooked biscuits or an overbaked stew.

Make the Time Investment

I like this dish specifically because it’s so outside of the norm for me, without being over-the-top decadent. My weeknight cooking is a little more slapdash. Tofu miso stew requires me to hunker down and pay attention. The directions are simple, but they do span across three separate recipes: broth, stew, and biscuits. Often if I’m making a big-time investment in a dish, it’s a baked good or finicky hunk of meat. And it’s worth it, but it’s a different vibe than this stew, which always feels so wholesome and grounding.

Relish the Results

This dish is pure, autumnal bliss. The gravy is rich and salty. It robes collapsing wedges of onion and sweet potato, slippery halved mushrooms plump with sesame oil and broth. Each bite is a new surprise, revealing the chew of burdock, the unexpected heat of grated ginger, and a slightly bitter turnip nuzzled up against a candy-sweet carrot. Best of all it makes vegetables, which can get a little blah in a winter roasting rut, feel simultaneously fresh and cozy.

Tofu-Miso Stew

It tastes and feels like a chicken pot pie, but instead it's a pile of veggies doused in a rich miso gravy.

Serves 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the stock:

To begin the stew:

  • 2

    medium onions, cut into wedges

  • 2 tablespoons

    dark 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

  • 4 to 6

    scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths

  • Fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

  • Chinese pepper (Szechuan pepper) or black pepper

Instructions

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

Recipe Notes

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.

Reprinted from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook by Edward Espe Brown © 2009 by Edward Espe Brown. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.

Sage Biscuits

Adding sage to the biscuits gives them an herby, perfume-y smell and almost cheesey umami taste.

Makes 12 modest-size biscuits

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 cups

    white flour

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon

    salt

  • 1/3 cup

    oil or butter, melted

  • 1

    egg, beaten

  • 1/2 cup

    milk

  • 1/4 cup

    fresh sage, minced

Instructions

  1. Arrange an oven rack in the uppermost position and preheat to 475°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease it lightly. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt, and place in mixing bowl. Combine oil, egg, milk, and sage in a separate bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the wets. Combine with a fork, just until mixed.

  2. Spoon dough onto prepared baking sheet or roll out on a lightly floured countertop and cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter or floured glass. Bake until the bottoms are browned, 8 to 12 minutes.

Recipe Notes

Reprinted from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook by Edward Espe Brown © 2009 by Edward Espe Brown. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.