My best friend got the holiday bonus gift she dreamed of from her dentist employer this year: A new food processor. It replaces the worn out one that came with her husband when she got married 20 years ago.
Susan is a great cook, but so much of what she grinds in her processor is better done without electricity.
Enter the mortar and pestle, said to date back 5,000 years when hungry people figured out grain could be separated from chaff to procure digestible food. It has since been used by apothecaries to grind medicines and by foodies everywhere to pulverize grains and herbs to fully release the oils and flavors of a substance.
The logic: The rough surface of the interior takes hold of what we need to crack and crush, allowing us the traction for the pestle to do its job of amalgamating ingredients, reducing herbs and spices, defoliating stems and turning nuts to powders and pastes.
“If you enjoy cooking, using a mortar and pestle will simply be part of your craft of food preparation, but if you just need to get the job done, reach for the food processor, ” says Gourmet Sleuth, which opines that marble is the best choice for a versatile mortar and pestle. That’s because marble won’t absorb odors from garlic and other foods and is a hard surface for grinding, as well as easy to clean and maintain.
Are you ready for more hands-on food prep? Do you want to appear as if you are well equipped in the kitchen? Either way, here are some bowls and bats (including modern renditions) you can score for your own kitchen:
The Swiss designed Kuhn Rikon Eco Mortar & Pestle is made of bamboo with a porcelain bowl. It features a teardrop shaped porcelain hole, a modern approach to an age-old staple. $50.
This classic and affordable white marble Mortar and Pestle has a smooth shape with a contemporary clean style. It holds about 6 ounces. $14 at Olive Barn.
Le Creuset Stoneware Mortar and Pestle in Caribbean Blue (comes in other delicious shades, as well) has an unglazed interior and pestle tip to create the perfect surface for efficiency. The virtually non-porous stoneware is fired at 2156 degrees F, giving it unmatched strength and durability, making it resistant to chipping, cracking and staining. The enameled surface makes it easy to clean and resists scratching. Capacity: 20 ounces. $38.
Carved out of natural volcanic stone, The RSVP Authentic Mexican Molcajete from Chef Tools is the traditional Mexican version of a mortar and tejolote, or pestle is also included. This is the tool of choice for authentic moles, salsas and fresh guacamole. Includes a booklet with steps to cure and clean your molcajete as well as recipes for authentic guacamole and salsa. The molcajete is 5″ tall and the tejolote is 4.5″ long. $57.
Helen Chen’s Asian Kitchen 4″ Bamboo Mortar and Pestle works well because of the straight-up bowl and wide pestle designed for quick, efficient grinding. Bamboo is less absorbent than wood and therefore easier to keep clean and sanitary. Dimensions: 4″ tall. $13 at Chef Tools.
Main Image: Chef Tools