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Real Chinese Eats: Fresh lily bulbs in season 荷兰豆炒鲜百合


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Most of the year one can only find dried lily bulbs 干百合, suitable for making porridge 百合粥, but during July and August fresh ones 新鲜百合 hit the market in a big way. Versatile and tasty. These are one of those things that you won’t find in the west; reason enough to try them while you’re here. These root bulbs grow deep in moist soil, concentrating nourishment so the lily plant can form its flowers. Botanists call them "storage organs" and refer to them as "energy reservoirs." 




They have a firm and slightly crunchy texture, not unlike that of fingerling new potatoes; a pleasant, mostly bland flavor with a mildly sweet aftertaste. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine)  assigns them lots of benefits. They are frequently recommended as a food that can help rid your system of excess internal heat; plus they moisturize the lungs, thus reducing cough 润肺治咳。Furthermore, with continued use they are said to promote restful sleep at night 安眠的作用。


(This lily flower is a Baidu picture.)







Ducked out between rain showers this afternoon and bought some at the local farmers market. Decided to pair them with tender snow peas 荷兰豆 and a sweet organic carrot 有机或萝卜。Added a few slivers of Yunnan ham 宣威火腿 to boost the flavor.  Minced one head of single-clove garlic 独蒜。(Please click the photos to enlarge them.)


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The seller had older, more mature snow peas (shown on the left of the frame above) as well as the very tender young ones that I was after. Bigger ones are cheaper, but both kinds are inexpensive. Wash them and snap off the stem. These usually don’t have tough “strings” along the seam. Scrub and slice the carrot (doesn’t need to be peeled.) Here's a closeup showing how these are mostly "pod" at this stage, with only undeveloped peas inside. 









Lily bulbs grow in moist sandy soil , usually requiring full sun. They need to be washed well, all grit removed. The way to do this is to take them apart by hand, peeling off one petal at a time. Each bulb has a woody "stem" or "bud" that should be removed and discarded, as should any brown or damaged parts. These tough central bits become next year's flowers, but they aren't good to eat. Wash the petals again after they are “disassembled.” Each bulb required almost a minute. I used three of them.


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I blanched the cleaned lily petals and the sliced carrot for half a minute in a pot of lightly salted water. If the snow peas had been more mature and tougher, I would have blanched them too.


Heat the wok over high flame, add a little oil. Start with the ham and minced garlic. Add the lily petals and carrot slices. Keep them moving briskly for half a minute or so until they begin to soften. Add the snow peas. Stir and flip, shake the wok, only about a minute more. You want the vegetables to be tender, but still retain their crunch.


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Add a light sprinkle of salt (remember that the ham is salty.) That’s all. No need for chili peppers or complex sauces. You want the gentle flavors of the lily, carrot, and peas to shine.


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Serve it as part of a larger meal or alone with steamed white rice.


















Clean and simple taste. Fresh seasonal combinations like this are one of the glories of China. Not much trouble; not much expense. Don’t let them pass you by.  



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Day 2:


Had some lily and carrot left. Fried them up this morning with a couple eggs. 


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A sprinkle of salt. Ready in seconds. Don't overcook the eggs.


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A good way to start the day.

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