Monday, December 20, 2010

Mortar and Pestle: For an Adventurous Cook and a Strong Arm

When I was in second grade, I was having a hard time sharpening my pencil in Ms. Frye's obstinate manual sharpener. Ms. Frye laughed at me. "You need to give it a little oomph!"


Ms. Frye laughed again, finished sharpening my pencil, and explained that "oomph" is slang for some serious muscle power.

A mortar and pestle is a kitchen tool that indeed requires 'oomph,' or 'elbow grease.' To use it is to assume a task far less delicate than mincing or chopping, but the mortar and pestle is an iconic reminder of a cooking truth--things taste better smashed.

Some may say it better, but simply put, I think smashing ingredients brings out more flavor than making clean cuts. That's why garlic presses are so popular, and why crushing half a lemon over a tilapia filet adds more flavor than simply placing lemon slices on top.

I have seen mortar and pestle sets at Target, Ikea, and World Market for anywhere from $10-$20.

Some ideas for the mortar and pestle:

Season a Stir Fry (3T): Obtain fresh ginger, garlic, and any spices you wish. Coarsley chop a few cloves of garlic and chunks of raw ginger (take the skin off the ginger first). Add them to the bowl. Then, add some sea salt (the coarse sea salt adds friction and aids in the mashing of the tough ginger). Mash until a paste is formed. Add it to your stir fry. Add in the final moments of cooking for an especially loud flavor.

Make Guacamole (1 cup): Chop onion and garlic in whatever quantities suit your taste buds. Cut an avocado in chunks. Add the onions, garlic and a little salt to the bowl and smash. Then, add the softer avocado and blend. Dice a roma tomato and stir it in. Season with salt, pepper and lime juice. Eat it right out of the bowl!

Mix spices: Blend spices in traditional baking recipes with the mortar and pestle before adding them to the batter. This "activates" the flavors.

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