For years I resisted buying a mortar and pestle — how could it really be all that useful in the kitchen, anyway? I feel that way about most non-essentials since I live in a minuscule apartment. Then, finally, after years of grinding my cumin seeds with the bottom of an old saucepan, I gave in and bought a lovely one from a favorite kitchen store. Almost instantly, I was converted. That's because a mortar and pestle can prepare a whole lot more than I originally thought. Here are 10 things to start.
One of the most classic uses of a mortar and pestle is for pesto. While you could just toss your ingredients into a food processor, this is how you do it nonna-style. You'll get arguably superior results as you're crushing and bruising the ingredients instead of finely chopping them, which can make the raw garlic and basil taste bitter.
Get the Recipe: How To Make Perfect Pesto Every Time
2. Caesar Dressing
The best way to mash those anchovies and garlic into a paste for classic Caesar dressing is to use a mortar and pestle. Mine has a handy spout so I actually continue to make the dressing right in the tool, whisking in the egg yolks and oil and pouring the dressing from the spout.
Get the Recipe: How To Make the Best Caesar Dressing
If your mortar and pestle is large enough, you can treat it like a traditional molcajete, a Mexican mortar, and mash together an authentic guacamole.
Get the Recipe: The Perfect Guacamole
The herby Argentinean sauce that's great over steak, chicken, or fish comes together easily in a mortar and pestle. Just like pesto, chimichurri gets crushed instead of chopped when made this way, making for a more well-blended product.
Get the Recipe: Skirt Steak with Chimichurri
5. Spice Blends
While you can buy most spice blends already ground, grinding them yourself ensures that they will be the most fresh and potent in aroma and flavor. Grind a mix of whole spices to make blends like Middle Eastern za'atar, Indian garam masala, or North African baharat.
Your raw vegetables, grilled meat and fish, and French fries don't know what they are missing if they haven't met aioli. The garlicky mayonnaise makes just about everything better, and it comes together easily in a mortar and pestle.
Get the Recipe: Aioli
For a chunkier, more rustic-style hummus, reach for your mortar and pestle. After all, like pesto, hummus was traditionally made in this tool.
Get the Recipe: How To Make Hummus from Scratch
8. Curry Paste
There are plenty of high-quality premade curry pastes on the market, but nothing beats the flavor of a homemade version. The list of ingredients may seem daunting, but it's simply a matter of mashing everything together in a mortar and pestle.
Get the Recipe: Massaman Curry with Beef
This Italian classic is made up of just a few basic ingredients — parsley, garlic, and lemon zest — but they combine to make a flavor-packed, zesty condiment for fish or roasted vegetables. Making it in a mortar and pestle creates a smoother, more paste-like product.
Get the Recipe: How to Make Classic Italian Gremolata
10. Flavored Salts
Fancy flavored salts can cost a fortune at speciality grocery stores, which is funny since they are so easy to make at home. Grind a mix of dried herbs and spices with coarse salt in a mortar and pestle for a DIY version.
Get the Recipe: How to Make Flavored Salts
What did we forget? How else you do use your mortar and pestle?