I can’t believe it’s been more than a month since my last post! I’d just completed a major system development project for a client at work. The delivery of this system had taken over my entire attention. Perhaps some of the technologist readers out there might sympathize with me and I ask for your forgiveness. As soon as the project was over I went to Chinatown and was excited to find edible lily bulbs (百合) in season. I was itching to get back to my kitchen.
You may not know this but lily bulbs are widely cultivated for food in Asia especially in China, Korea and Japan. In China they are grown in both the northern and central regions. Although there are many species of lily with edible bulbs, the ones most commonly grown for food in China are Lilium brownii, Lilium dauricum and Lilium pumilum. Specifically bulbs from Lilium brownii, which has beautiful white trumpet shaped flowers, are the ones usually available in the markets. For years only the dried bulb sections were available from China. But now in Chinatown you can obtain fresh lily bulbs in season from spring through late summer. They come vacuum-sealed in plastic and can be kept fresh unopened for a few weeks in the refrigerator.
Lily bulbs (known as baihe in Chinese) are white skinless ball shaped corms, which contain starchy scale like sections. They have a slightly perfumed smell, crunchy texture and refreshingly sweet taste. The Chinese use them in cold dishes, stir-fries and soups. They are considered yin in character and have a cooling effect to the body, thus making them ideal for summer consumption.
In addition to being used as a food item, lily bulbs have many medicinal uses. Most commonly they are used as an ingredient to make expectorant, which can help relieve symptoms of coughing, asthma or lung congestion.
Widely grown along the Yangtze River and its delta region, lily bulbs are used frequently in the local cooking of Shanghai, which is right in the center of the delta region. It was there that I first discovered fresh lily bulbs in a stir-fry dish with celery. A light and yet flavorful dish with a hint of flowery fragrance. Here I’d like to introduce you to Stir-fry Lily Bulbs and Celery. I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I did.
Stir-fried Lily Bulb and Celery (西芹百合)
- Preparation time: 15 minutes
- Rapid cooking time: 15 minutes
- 2 cups (12 ozs.) lily bulbs separated (百合)
- 2 cups (12 ozs.) sliced celery
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/4 cup Shaoxing cooking wine
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 red chili thinly sliced (optional)
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup of water
- Separate the sections of the lily bulbs by slicing off the top and the bottom of the bulbs. You may need to rinse off any dirt that’s lodged between the sections. Put the sections in a bowl and set aside. Slice the celery on the bias into slivers and set aside.
- In a wok heat vegetable oil until it just reaches the smoking point. Add the garlic to the wok and quickly stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the celery and the wine to the wok. Continue to stir-fry for about one minute. Cover the wok and cook for about 2 minutes. If the liquid evaporates too quickly then add 1/4 cup of water to the wok. Add the lily bulbs, salt, white pepper and the optional red chili if desired. Stir-fry for another minute then thicken the sauce with the cornstarch and water mixture. Plate and serve immediately.