Southern Voices on Pecans: Matthew Register, Southern Smoke BBQ of NC

Southern Voices on Pecans: Matthew Register, Southern Smoke BBQ of NC

By Stephanie Burt

Although Register’s restaurant is only open a couple of days a week (and there are two pecan trees he can see out its window), Southern Smoke BBQ does a brisk catering business booked months in advance. He always has pecans on hand for the variety of recipes he creates, such as this Grilled Eggplant Caponata, normally served as a stew but for this recipe turned into a grilled dish, still packing delicious stew flavors. “My grandparents had trees, and there were always bags of frozen pecans in the freezer they had picked and shelled,” he remembers. “Back then, I didn’t understand the importance, but these days, I know a pecan is a little nugget of gold when it comes to cooking.”It usually wouldn’t make sense to ask a “barbecue man” for a recipe on pecans. But Matthew Register is no ordinary barbecue chef, creating non-traditional side dishes that include everything from Sriracha-roasted carrots to chilled succotash that are served alongside the ‘cue at his small spot in Garland, NC. And pecans have always had a place in his family in this region of Eastern North Carolina.

“Traditionally it is made with pine nuts but we replace them with pecans to add another layer of sweetness to this already savory dish,” he explains. He adds that he knows that this recipe has a few steps, but all of them are easy ones, and the payoff is fit for a fancy dinner party or a grill out with the family. 


Grilled Eggplant Caponata
From Chef Matthew Register, Southern Smoke BBQ of NC

4 servings

For grilling the eggplant:
Olive oil for eggplant
1 large eggplant, sliced into rounds
A dash of sea salt

For the topping:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons white wine
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
½ cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup fresh basil

For the topping:
1 cup water
1 cup golden raisins
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 cups chopped pecans 

To grill eggplant:

  1. Cut eggplant and place it in bowl of cold water for 30 minutes.
  2. While eggplant is soaking, heat charcoal grill to medium heat.
  3. After 30 minutes remove eggplant from water and pat it dry with a paper towel. Place it on a baking sheet and brush olive oil and sprinkle salt on both sides.
  4. Place baking sheet on grill over indirect heat and grill eggplant on it on each side for 5 minutes until tender but still firm.

 To make sauce:

  1. In a pot, add olive oil and onions and cook over medium heat until onions become soft and translucent.
  2. Add garlic and cook until aromatic about 30 seconds, then add white wine and cook for about a minute to cook alcohol off.
  3. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, salt, and basil and reduce heat to medium low and cook for 15 minutes. You can reduce your heat to low and let the mixture stay warm until you are ready to serve.

To make topping:

  1. In a pot combine water, raisins, brown sugar, and lemon zest and bring to a boil.
  2. Once mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to low and add the cornstarch and continue cooking until mixture thickens.

To assemble:

  1. Place 2 tablespoons of tomato mixture on top of grilled eggplant. Place a tablespoon of raisin mixture on top of tomatoes and garnish generous amounts of chopped pecans! Serve hot.


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