How unsexy can an ingredient get? Bulbous, oxygen-yearningly purple, naturally bitter, easily spongy or mushy unless artfully cooked. It’s no surprise that its most popular American preparation (let’s not blame the Italians), breads it, fries it, and slathers it in sauce and cheese—so all that remains of the original vegetable is a vague flavor, some distracted echo of itself.
The eggplant is in full boom in these waning summer days, though, and Sitka and Spruce chef Logan Cox’s menu is based on “looking in the walk in and figuring out what the hell we’re going to do with this.” So when Present Tense Farms in Snoqualmie brought in eggplant, he approached the vegetable in three ways.
“People definitely have a negative attitude toward eggplant,” said Cox. “So instead of just frying it so it’s mushy, we do an escabeche. We cook them in a vinegar brine all the way through so they have a little give, an interesting texture people don’t usually associate with eggplant.”
For a base he charred eggplants on the woodburning grill—“the beating heart of the restaurant”—and pureed them. Then he drew on the Lebanese pairing of yogurt and eggplant for inspiration. “We always have housemade yogurt, so we try to do a lot of things with it.”
He continued in the Middle Eastern vein, layering spices like fennel seed, mustard, coriander, and chilis into the escabeche brine, so it crackles with flavor and texture. “I leave the seeds whole and fry them in the oil, that way you get lots of little crunchy accents. But we still try to make it Pacific Northwest—it tastes like it’s from here, but it’s influenced by that region.”
Cox garnishes with sunflower petals, and with fennel flowers and cilantro, which add fresh echoes of the fennel seed and coriander in the escabeche brine. Eggplant crisps, salted and dehydrated, finish the plate, so its textures—smooth, toothsome, crunchy—run the gamut of eggplant possibility.
Though their menu changes almost daily, Cox expects the dish to stay on the menu for a little longer.