A special taste of toon sprouts

In Yunnan, the Chinese toon sprouts, or tender leaves, are called a vegetable on the tree. They are typically a seasonal flavor. In winter, tender toon leaves grow out of the branches, stirring the diners appetite with red color and strong aroma. Based on regional differences and diners tastes, the toon sprouts can either be steamed, fried, boiled, stir-mixed, cured or deep fried. 

Recently, toon trees are giving off a luring smell in Huangcaoba of Qianwei Town, central Yunnans Yuxi city. Sprout clusters with red luster are visible on arrays of toon trees, sending visitors a quite misleading message that spring has already come. 

The toon is a four-season tree, sprouting even in winter. The low temperature caused the shoots grow a bit more slowly, and I pick the sprouts once four days, each harvest weighing around 20 kilograms, said Dong Wei, a local toon grower. Short of supply now, the winter toon sprout is priced at 68 yuan per kilogram. 

Dong Wei is not only a master hand in toon growing, but also an outstanding cook in toon dishes. The tender sprouts can be cooked in different ways: fried, steamed, cold dressed, or else, said Dong. In general, though, the popular dishes are fried egg with toon, fried pork with toon, cold-dressed toon with sauce, toon with braised chicken or duck. 

In making fried egg with toon, the sprouts are first washed and cut into tiny bits, with two broken eggs stirred into even liquid. Then, put into a wok some cooking oil, pour the egg liquid when properly heated, and add to egg the cut toon bits. Finally, keep stir-frying for a while till the reddish toon bits turn green. In cold-dressing toon, the cleaned red sprouts are first cooked in boiling water for two minutes. When looking green, the sprouts are fished up and cut into segments, to which vinegar, salt, red pepper, Sichuan pepper are added. Mix up the ingredients, and a cool toon dish will come into being. 

Ive also tried a brand new dish called coon splashed by oil, said Dong, adding its not so hard. First, cut the sprouts into fine bits, and put into a bowl the toon leave bits, the stem-bit layer and the layer of salt, garlic and peppers. Second, scoop some heated oil and pour it onto the ingredients, giving off sizzling tunes and a strong aroma. In the end, stir-mix the ingredients evenly, and a tea spoon of the mixture will occupy you taste bud for quite a while.