Edible Lilies: a Tasty Way to Welcome the New Year

In early December, I paid a visit to my friends Elizabeth and Satoshi at their lovely ryokan, Mori-no-yado Gableview Forest Inn, in Nikko. At dinner, Satoshi served a delicious appetizer I’d never had before: sautéed lily bulbs.

I confess, I didn’t even know lilies were edible (and please note: not all varieties *are* safely edible, so if you decide to try these, please make sure you source them from a farm that grows them specifically for eating).

Satoshi sources his lily bulbs directly from the farm where they’re grown, on Hokkaido, in northern Japan. They’re only in season for a few months of the year, in the wintertime, when the bulbs are dormant. Satoshi showed me how the grower ships them to him, packed in sawdust, and explained how he prepares and cooks the bulbs.

When I returned to Tokyo, I noticed a box of sawdust in the produce section at the market. On closer inspection . . . score! Edible lily bulbs! I bought some immediately and brought them home.

The lily bulb recipe that follows is a hybrid of Satoshi’s instructions and my riff on the theme, but I hope you enjoy it, whether you’re here because you want to learn how to cook lily bulbs, or whether you just stopped by to enjoy the pictures:

The lily bulb, fresh from the sawdust

The first step in preparing lily bulbs is removing the dirt they grew in and the sawdust that cushioned their trip from the farm. A good wash in cold water will do nicely.

My lily bulb was splitting into two!

Lilies reproduce by dividing – and the one I picked was in the middle of that process. A little longer and it would have been two! Don’t worry about the brown spots – they’re not harmful, but you can trim them off with a knife or a vegetable peeler (Satoshi does, when preparing them for guests, so I did too.)

The roots. Yep, it’s a *real* flower bulb

Step two is cutting off the roots and “peeling” the petals apart for further cleaning.

The view from the side.

Satoshi told me that he soaks the separated petals in cold water to help remove any particles of dirt or grit (these are real flower bulbs, after all, and they grow in the ground, so there will be quite a bit of dirt between the leaves). As he instructed, I washed each petal carefully in water as I removed it, and then left them in a bowl of cold water for about half an hour.

Cold water bath

At the end of the cold water bath, I washed the petals again and cut away the little brown bits before blanching them quickly in lightly salted boiling water. The timing on these next few steps are critical, because lily bulbs get mushy when overcooked. You want to boil them for 60 seconds and then dump them back into a bath of ice water to ensure the cooking process stops immediately.

A very fast blanch in boiling water

The final step is another one-minute dance in a hot sauté pan. Satoshi sautéed them in butter–and I think real butter definitely complements the delicate taste of the bulbs. When I made them at home, I also added some pepper and sesame seeds (a combination of black and gold), because I eat sesame seeds with just about everything. Feel free to leave them off if you don’t like them.

All done! Time to eat!

The first time I made the lilies at home, I ate them just as you see above: on their own, as a side dish, sautéed in butter with pepper and sesame seeds.

The second time, I stir-fried them with crispy tofu, red bell peppers and pea pods. Since bell peppers and pea pods both cook in about a minute, I added all of the vegetables to the pan together and stir fried them for about a minute, before adding the toasted tofu and removing it from the heat. Once again, a minute is all it takes–so if you’re stir-frying things that take longer, I’d recommend getting everything else cooked through and tossing the lilies in at the very end, for the final minute or so of cooking time.

Colorful and delicious

I’ve made lilies several times since first tasting them at GABLEVIEW. I’ll be sorry to see them go out of season, but I’ll definitely make them again next winter. They’re a delicious way to welcome the new year.

Have you ever eaten lily bulbs? Did you like them? If you haven’t tried them, do you think you’d like them?