Behind the scenes of “Manpuku,” the currently airing NHK morning TV drama series, cooking expert Takako Hirosato is making sure the show's culinary craft is authentic.

Hirosato is overseeing the cooking scenes in “Manpaku,” which is set in Osaka from the prewar period to the era of Japan’s high economic growth.

Formerly a teacher of a culinary school, Hirosato's encounter with the vegetables traditionally grown in Osaka became a turning point in her life.

The 42-year-old cooking expert was born to a couple who ran an auto parts repair business in Osaka. Relatives will often gather at her parents’ home, not only at New Year’s and for Buddhist memorial services, but to watch the Hanshin Tigers professional baseball team play on TV.

Her mother would prepare the food, ranging from sushi with vinegared saury to a simmered dish of “koya-dofu” (freeze-dried tofu), tempura of sweet potato and more. As a child, Hirosato helped her mother by cutting up the vegetables and doing other tasks.

“Where people gathered, there were plates of food.”

By the time she was in the upper grades of elementary school, Hirosato had decided that she wanted to attend a cooking school. After graduating from high school, she studied Japanese cuisine for two years. Before graduating from the culinary school, she was asked to become a teacher there.

As part of her work at the school, Hirosato became involved in a project that aimed to popularize the indigenous vegetables of Osaka. She says that as she studied their cooking methods, she grew fond of them.

For example, “Tennoji kabura” is a type of turnip originating around Tennoji in Osaka.

“It is quite sweet and tasty. It was cultivated during the Edo Period and is said to be the roots of ‘nozawana’ leaves grown in the Shinshu region,” Hirosato says.

There is also “Kotsuma nankin,” a pumpkin whose cultivation has been resumed.

“Each vegetable has its story and there are people who have preserved them," she says. "That is the fascinating thing about them."

Hoping to make the native vegetables known, she left her job at the school and at age 29, launched a business with her mother to make and sell prepared foods and pickles of the traditional vegetables. Her business card reads “Producer of goodies of ‘naniwa.’” Naniwa is the place that became modern Osaka.

Together with the farmers who grow the vegetables, Hirosato hopes to give a boost to the food of Osaka, once known as “tenka no daidokoro,” or the nation’s kitchen.

Hirosato says she often learns about the traditional ways of preparing the vegetables from the producers. “Hasune-mochi,” or lotus root rice cake that is served at festive occasions, is one such recipe.

Although “Kadoma renkon” (also known as Kawachi renkon), a lotus root characterized by a springy texture, is used in the original recipe, ordinary lotus root available at supermarkets also works. It goes well with sweet bean paste or “kinako” (soybean flour), but when seasoned with mustard and soy sauce, it becomes a side dish for drinks.

Born in 1976, Takako Hirosato taught at the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka before establishing Kicho, an office that produces and sells prepared foods as well as develops recipes, in 2006. In addition to serving as a cooking class lecturer, she has overseen the cooking scenes in the morning TV drama series produced by NHK’s Osaka Broadcasting Station since “Gochisosan,” which aired from 2013 to 2014. The newest NHK morning drama, “Manpuku,” is her sixth project.

INGREDIENTS

(Serves four)

2 segments of Kadoma lotus root (360 grams)

1/3 cup sticky rice (mochigome)

Bit of red food coloring

Some sugar, soybean flour, sweet bean paste containing whole beans (tsubu-an), soy sauce, Japanese mustard paste (nerigarashi)

METHOD

Rinse rice and immerse in water overnight. Add food coloring to water for half the rice to dye it red.

Peel lotus root and immerse in water for a few minutes.

Cut length of lotus root in half and hold the side with the bigger holes up. Stuff rice in holes with chopsticks or spoon. As lotus root will split if too much rice is stuffed, fill about 70 to 80 percent. The amount a hole will carry depends on its size. If rice spills from the bottom hole, cover with aluminum foil.

Place lotus root in steaming steamer and cook for about 40 minutes over medium heat.

When somewhat cool, cut in round 1-cm-thick slices and serve with soybean flour mixed with sugar, sweet bean paste and soy sauce mixed with mustard paste.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column