In a sea of new cooking gadgets, there is one item that has remained unchanged throughout the ages. Nestled in the corner of the kitchen, this simple and sophisticated set sits ready and waiting, for soon it will be needed (in the words of chef Jamie Oliver) to “muddle and bash” simple ingredients to culinary perfection. The mortar and pestle is one of the oldest cooking tools, dating back to prehistoric man. It revolutionized meal preparation and was an active part in the gradual evolution from the cook of the hunter-gatherer era to the novice and trained chefs of today. In addition, it has served a role in the advancement of pharmaceuticals and science as a way to break down the molecular structure of elements for consumption or studies. The mortar and pestle’s non-absorbent material boasts endless uses.

According to D. & P. Gramp in their book “Alchemy of the Mortar & Pestle,” the purpose of the mortar and pestle coming together is “to break down the molecular bonds of food and matter by grinding, pounding, and mixing.” In its simplest form, it is a bowl, the mortar, and a crushing tool, the pestle. Together, when used with slight force, they can crack, mix, muddle and bash together an infinite number of savory dishes.

A must have in every kitchen, today mortar and pestle sets can easily be found at any mass retailer or cooking store in a wide variety of materials, such as wood, marble, granite, stone and stainless steel. After a good seasoning (see instructions at right), your mortar and pestle will be ready for your creative juices to flow; from marinades to butters and sauces to herb rubs, the ideas are endless!

Seasoning your mortar and pestle (granite or stone version)

Seasoning your mortar and pestle is important for two reasons. One, it will clean out any leftover dust, grains and particles from the manufacturing process, and two, it will add a hint of flavor to anything you create in it.

Ingredients

3 garlic gloves
2–3 cups jasmine rice
2 tablespoons of kosher salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1–2 tablespoons black and white peppercorns

Wash with warm water and new sponge. NEVER use soap, as it absorbs right back into the mortar and pestle.

Grind a small handful of rice with the set until it becomes a powder. Discard. Repeat as necessary until the rice remains WHITE and does not discolor.

Add garlic, salt, cumin, black and white pepper.
Grind up until it is a paste. Discard.

Rinse with water, and let air dry.

“Alchemy of the Mortar & Pestle” recommends following a specific order when adding ingredients in to a mortar and pestle.

Add the driest ingredients first (dried herbs and spices), followed by moist ones (garlic, onion etc.). Next add any oily ingredients (nuts, butter etc.) and finally wet ones (honey, chicken stock etc.). Taste and add salt if needed.

Homemade Guacamole

3 ripe Hass avocados, pitted
1/2 cup red onion, diced
2–3 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of at least 1 lime
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced

Combine the avocado, red onion, garlic, lime juice and salt in a mortar and pestle. You may also use a fork to get the avocados to your desired consistency. (I like my guacamole with some chunks still in it.)

Once you have gotten the mixture to your desired consistency, fold in the cilantro and tomato. The guacamole can be enjoyed immediately, but it is best if refrigerated for at least an hour. Make sure to cover TIGHTLY with plastic wrap to keep from browning.

Serve with chips and a margarita!

BY AMY WHITAKER