Gilding the lily

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 July, 2011, 12:00am

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When horticulturists and gardeners look at a lily bulb, they focus on the beautiful flowers that grow out of it. When gastronomes do so, they think of all the delicious dishes they can make with it.

Be warned, though, not all lily bulbs are edible - some are toxic - so make sure you search the supermarket shelves for the right ones, and not the flower market.

The off-white lily bulb is composed of petal-like sections attached at the base. They have a sweet-starchy flavour and a softly crunchy texture. The bulb should be firm, with tightly closed 'petals'. In supermarkets, however, they're almost always sold in vacuum-sealed packs of two or three, which makes it difficult to feel them for firmness. The bulbs are popular in summer because they're believed to have a cooling effect.

To prepare the bulbs, snap off the sections at the base, working towards the centre. Rinse the pieces and drain in a colander. Thinly slice some boneless pork or chicken and marinate for about 15 minutes in a mixture of soy sauce, rice wine, a little sugar, salt, white pepper, cornstarch and cooking oil. Heat some oil in a skillet, add a couple of slices of ginger and a clove or two of lightly crushed garlic.

Stir-fry over a high flame until fragrant, then add the marinated meat and stir-fry until lightly browned. Add the lily bulb pieces and some sugar peas that have been sliced on the diagonal into 1cm-wide pieces. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds then add water, cover and simmer for a few minutes, or until the meat is cooked and the vegetables are crisp-tender. Drizzle in a little sesame oil and serve.