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SOUTHERN VOICES ON PECANS: MATTHEW REGISTER, SOUTHERN SMOKE BBQ OF NCBy Stephanie Burt
“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.
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.
“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 CaponataFrom Chef Matthew Register, Southern Smoke BBQ of NC4 servings
For grilling the eggplant:Olive oil for eggplant1 large eggplant, sliced into roundsA dash of sea salt
For the topping:2 tablespoons olive oil1 medium onion, finely diced3 garlic cloves, minced4 tablespoons white wine1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes½ cup chicken stock1 teaspoon salt1/3 cup fresh basil
For the topping:1 cup water1 cup golden raisins¼ cup brown sugar¼ teaspoon lemon zest1 teaspoon cornstarch2 cups chopped pecans
To grill eggplant:
To make sauce:
To make topping:
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