Chinese Toon leaves tossed with fresh bean curd are made from Chinese Mahogany, or Toona Sinensis, which is a deciduous tree found in woodland habitats. The fruit and leaves of Toona Sinensis are edible and are often used in teas. The leaves have an onion-like taste and are rich in vitamin A. The shoots and leaves are often cooked in stir fry, salads can be fried or pickled, and are also used as a seasoning. The fruit of the tree is a star-shaped capsule with winged-seeds. Slightly oniony in flavor, the tender reddish leaves of the toon are used fresh as in this tasty cool dish, where their unusual flavor is cossetted by pillowy cubes of fresh bean curd and a thin blanket of a sesame sauce. As understated as a society matron, this is a simple and refined way to get to know this singular taste.
Serves 6 to 8 as part of an array of appetizers, or 2 to 3 as the main appetizer
Bean curd and Chinese toon:
1 block fresh, firm bean curd, preferably organic
1 large handful of fresh toon leaves (see the note above), or use fresh or salted toon leaves as directed above
3 cups water
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons roasted sesame oil, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons roasted sesame paste, plus more to taste
1½ teaspoons light soy sauce, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Boiling water, as needed
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
A good sprinkle of sea salt
Toasted sesame seeds, optional
1. Cut the bean curd into ¾ -inch cubes and drain off most of the liquid. Pick over the leaves as directed in the note above and remove any tough stems or leaves. Place two small colanders in your sink.
2. Finely chopped blanched toon leaves
3. Bring the water to a boil over high heat in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the bean curd and blanch it for a minute, and then use a slotted spoon to remove the bean curd to a colander in the sink where it can drain. Toss the toon leaves into the boiling water and blanch them for about 30 seconds. Pour the pot into another colander placed in the sink and rinse them with cool tap water to immediately stop the cooking.
4. Pile the blanched bean curd on a serving plate. Squeeze the toon leaves dry and finely chop them. Refrigerate the bean curd and toon leaves for a few hours to chill them, if you like.
5. Mix together the sauce ingredients; if the sauce is too thick, thin it out with a few teaspoons of boiling water so that it has the consistency of cream. Taste the toon leaves and the sauce, and adjust the seasoning accordingly. Drain any water off of the serving platter that has accumulated while the bean curd was resting. Pour the sauce over the bean curd and sprinkle the chopped toon leaves on top. Garnish the toon leaves with the sesame oil and salt, as well as a few toasted sesame seeds, if you like. Toss at the table.