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Preparing Food with Mortar and Pestle

These tools go hand in hand to grind spices into finer bits, powders and pastes. The pestle, a small club with a rounded bottom, pounds the ingredients in the mortar, a very thick bowl. Many ingredients can be pounded together, and these spices make the perfect seasonings for many dishes.

There are many different sizes of mortars and pestles, but if you choose to only purchase one, then make sure it is large (3” deep and 5” wide) – this will make sure you are never restricted for space. When you are shopping for a pestle, ensure that it is very heavy; you will then have to use less force yourself, preventing exertion. Make sure that the pestle has a wide holding area, so that you are able to comfortably grip it during pounding.

There are several ways to ensure that your use of the mortar and pestle are effective and easy. First, if you are grinding a combination of ingredients, you should pound the hardest first. Items such as nuts should be crushed before adding softer ingredients such as cheese or herbs. Another tip for using these tools is salt; it will make your ingredients easier to crush because it removes all moisture.

If you do not wish to purchase a mortar and pestle, you can simply create your own. Find a thick, heavy wooden bowl for the mortar, and a plastic-covered rock as the pestle. However, because wood often soaks in the smells of what it comes into contact with, you should also cover it with plastic wrap to prevent it from retaining the odors of pungent ingredients such as garlic or cumin.

A good substitute for a mortar and pestle is a coffee grinder. One that is powered by an electric propeller will be very effective in grinding any spices or seeds for recipes. Just make sure that your grinder is clean enough for the job; by grinding uncooked rice and ½ a teaspoon of baking soda and brushing out the residue, you will ensure that there are no remaining coffee grinds in the machine.

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Last Modified: 11/28/11.