"Food stylist" Midori Takahashi specializes in maximizing the potential of dishes through choices of plates, place mats and more to effectively enhance them and the perception of the cook responsible for them.
After studying pottery in a two-year college, Takahashi, 60, worked at an illustrator's office before striking out on her own. Her skill for highlighting depictions of cooked dishes earned her a reputation, and she decided to follow her chosen career.
Takahashi says lately she has been bothered by the feeling that "an increasing number of people are preoccupied with strictly following the steps shown in the recipes of cookbooks and websites."
She has taken part in the publication of more than 100 cookbooks and understands people wanting to cook exactly as the recipe states. Such slavish devotion is not for her, however.
"That would be tiring," she says.
With that in mind, Takahashi encountered the thoughts and skills of cooking experts through work, and her style changed to reflect the belief that "cookbooks and recipes are to be used to broaden our capacity in the way we handle and cook the ingredients and figure out the flow and key points of the cooking procedure."
The sizzling sound made just before deep-fried tempura is nicely done, and how the oil looks in a frying pan heated to cook eggs are some examples. When people take in the ingredients with all their five senses and look for their "own version of good taste," they will "be freed from the preoccupation with the need to follow the recipe," she says.
This week, Takahashi introduces "green leafy vegetables steamed in oil," which she learned from cooking expert Yoko Arimoto. It is easy to make and allows us to eat a generous amount of vegetables. It is also a dish that will not strain New Year’s feast-fatigued stomachs.
All it takes is to fill a heavy pot with chopped vegetables and garlic, pour in generous amounts of olive oil and salt, cover with lid and heat. The water from the vegetables and oil mix in the sealed pot to create a flavor unlike that of sauteed vegetables.
You may use just one kind of vegetable or more, depending on your preference. If they vary greatly in hardness, think of how long each will take to cook and create time lags when adding to the pot. If you wish to make a main dish out of it, steam meat or fish with the vegetables.
"Please enjoy at will to suit how busy you are that day, what the weather is like, how you feel and with whom you will be eating," says Takahashi.
Born in Gunma Prefecture in 1957, Midori Takahashi studied pottery and later textiles at the Joshibi College of Art and Design. She went on to work at the office of illustrator Ayumi Ohashi. She started her own business in 1987. She specializes in the organization of cookbooks, among other things. She has written books including "Watashi no utsuwa Anata no utsuwa" (My bowls and dishes, your bowls and dishes), published by Kadokawa Corp.
1 bunch each of komatsuna leaves and nanohana (field mustard)
2 cloves garlic
5 Tbsp olive oil
Bit of salt
Rinse komatsuna, nanohana and drain. Chop into 4-cm pieces and place in thick pot. (Takahashi uses a cast iron pot 24 cm in diameter.) Vegetables will turn out tastier when packed almost tightly.
Add crushed garlic. Pour olive oil in circular motion, sprinkle with salt. Cover with lid and place over medium heat.
Steam and simmer for 6 to 10 minutes. Choose steaming time according to your taste for crunchiness or tenderness.
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From The Asahi Shimbun's Watashi no Ryori column