Lily buds are also known as gum jum choi, golden needles and lily flowers.
What are they? The unopened buds of the tiger lily plant.
How are they available? They're usually dried, but they're sometimes available fresh, when they have a more delicate taste and softer texture.
How to choose: The dried lily buds shouldn't be brittle; choose buds that are pale and still pliable.
What else? As with other Chinese dried ingredients, lily buds must be soaked before using. After they're completely hydrated, discard the water, rinse the buds and remove the hard knob at one end. Although they're called 'golden needles', the dried buds are actually pale brown rather than golden, the colour of the fresh vegetable. In traditional Chinese medicine, lily buds are believed to reduce anxiety and alleviate insomnia. They are also used in Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai cooking.
How to use: they're a traditional ingredient in jai - the vegetarian dish eaten during Lunar New Year.
It's made with many other dried ingredients such as hairy moss seaweed (although this can be omitted if you're concerned about the soil erosion caused by over-harvesting this land algae), mushrooms, cloud ear mushrooms, bean curd sheets and mung bean noodles, which are all soaked until soft. Simmer these ingredients with fermented beancurd, soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, ginger and fresh vegetables such as sliced lotus root, diced water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, Chinese cabbage and gingko nuts. The mixture should be rich tasting and slightly soupy in texture.
For a non-vegetarian dish, marinate thinly sliced pork with soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt, white pepper, cornstarch and sesame oil. After soaking the lily buds and removing the hard ends, tie the buds loosely into knots. Soak cloud ear mushrooms in warm water then cut them into quarters or halves, depending on size. Heat oil in a skillet or wok, add garlic and sliced ginger and cook until fragrant. Add the pork and cook briefly, then stir in the lily buds and cloud ear mushrooms. Add a little water or chicken broth then lower the heat and simmer for several minutes, or until the meat is cooked through. Stir in fresh coriander leaves and a light drizzle of sesame oil before serving over rice.