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Eat this! Daylilies, more than just a pretty flower

Fresh daylilies ready to be deep fried at Prairie Fire.

Fresh daylilies ready to be deep fried at Prairie Fire.

What it is: A beautiful trumpet-shaped flower that opens for just one day, the daylily is best known for its summer blooms along roadsides and in gardens, but it’s delicious, too. Raw daylily flowers have a sweet-sharp flavor; cooked, they have a mild, onion-mushroom taste. The green buds are vegetal and beanlike.

Prairie Fire's daylily fritters

Prairie Fire\’s daylily fritters

Common daylily species are orange and yellow, but extensive hybridization since the 19th century has created some 45,000 varieties in a wide variety of colors, and all are edible. (But do not confuse them with true lilies, which are toxic.)

Where it comes from: Daylilies (Hemerocallis) originated in Asia thousands of years ago, but are today found throughout the world, where they are highly prized by gardeners. The seventh-century Chinese book “Materia Medica” mentions the flowers.

Different varieties bloom all through the summer months, although most are at their height in July.

What to do with it: Be sure to use daylilies you know have not been treated with pesticides. If you don’t have your own garden, you can often find them at farmers’ markets, such as Green City Market.

For the best balance of flavor and texture, harvest daylily blossoms just as the buds begin to open , and use them soon afterward. They can be refrigerated for a few days; leave short stems attached, place them in a jar of water and then put the whole thing in a large plastic bag in the fridge.

Lightly rinse the daylilies and shake to make sure no bugs are inside before using. Remove the stamens.

Sarah Stegner and George-Bumbaris

Sarah Stegner and George-Bumbaris

Chopped raw daylilies make nice additions to salads. Dried daylilies, called “golden needles,” are common additions to Chinese stir-fries and soups, such as hot-and-sour soup, where they act as a thickener. Fresh flowers can be stuffed and used like squash blossoms. Unopened buds can be cooked as you would beans.

Daylily tubers are also edible, and can be used like fingerling potatoes. Digging up the plants means you don’t get flowers, but since daylilies, especially the common orange variety, can be invasive, you may need to thin out your flowerbeds anyway.

At Prairie Fire in the West Loop and Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook, chefs Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris batter and deep-fry the daylily blossoms.
Prairie Grass Cafe’s daylily fritters
Chefs Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris

Oil for deep frying
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 cup bread flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1-1/3 cups club soda
12 daylily blossoms

Heat the oil to 350 degrees in a deep-fryer or large pot. Combine the flours and spices. Whisk in the club soda until well blended. Dip the blossoms in the batter and fry until golden brown. 3 to 4 servings.
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