To get the most flavor out of your herbs and spices, you may want to abandon the electric grinder or food processor in favor of a simple ancient device, one of the oldest in the world, the mortar and pestle.
The mortar and pestle are available in a wide variety of sizes and can be found made of ceramic, glass, porcelain, wood, metal, granite, marble or bamboo. The advantage of a using a mortar and pestle rather than an electric grinder or food processor include easier (as in no) assembly required, less noise and easy cleanup — no small parts or sharp blades to wash.
Also, with a food processor, you tend to cut whatever you put in it, but with a mortar and pestle, you pound and crush, more effectively releasing oils and flavors. Plus you have more control over just how pulverized you want the results. Not to mention making a habit of grinding by hand with a mortar and pestle can tone your biceps, especially if you cook a lot!
When choosing what type of mortar and pestle to purchase, you need to decide what you will be using it for. Granite is usually the safest bet — it’s strong and used for heavy duty grinding. And it keeps the flavors of what you’re grinding pure.
Here’s a list of cooking tasks you can accomplish with a mortar and pestle:
- Grind your own peppercorns and spices including cinnamon sticks, coriander, and cloves.
- Remove cardamom seeds from their pods and then crush to use in Indian cooking.
- Grind sea salt to the fine texture of popcorn salt and season your movie night treat.
- Crush whole dry chilies into flakes.
- Crush capers to use in homemade tartar sauce recipes.
- Smash fresh peeled ginger to use in Asian recipes.
- Crush some flax seeds to release their benefits and add to yogurt for a nutritious breakfast or snack.
- Crush lavender to use in baking or potpourri.
- Crush herbs and seeds to make medicinal teas.
- Make fresh, homemade nut butters.
- Turn fresh garlic cloves into a paste and spread on Italian bread with olive oil for some intense garlic bread.
- Crush some fresh basil, garlic and pine nuts together in the larger sized units. Then mix in some olive oil to make super fresh and flavorful pesto.
Many people use the “dry cleaning” method which is to to simply use the pestle to grind up dry, uncooked white rice after each use, then dust out the powder.
Others cooks recommend rinsing each piece after use and dry completely with a towel. It’s your preference. Because granite is non-porous, many chefs say it’s even O.K. to wash with a mild soap and water, just do not soak.
And an added bonus of using this ancient grinder is that a mortar and pestle on your kitchen counter looks attractive, like part of the decor!
Do you use a mortar and pestle? Tell us in the comments below!