Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Simply Mortars and Pestles

Beginning in October, I am going to join a group of friends, and friends of friends, to cook our way through Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food. The woman leading us through the adventure is Karen, an enthusiastic cook, baker, gardener, and master of organization. We're in good hands. Her plan is simple, her rules are few, and her influence is tremendous... more than one hundred people have agreed to participate!

I had to order my book, since they were sold out at all of the bookstores I could get to. The day it arrived, I delved right in. I was anxious about the possibility that the recipes would be more science than art... which would be intimidating for me. I was concerned that I would have to add more appliances and contraptions to my kitchen supplies... which I was not going to feel so great about, either. But, mostly I wanted to see what we were going to be doing, making, tasting, playing with, and learning about.

So far, I am delighted... it's easier to be delighted when you find something familiar enough to be agreeable, and new enough to be inspiring. I am getting helpful ideas about staples, basics, and honest Simplicity. I am also finding that I will not have to adhere to strict and taxing rules about precision and exactness... reading and glancing throughout the book, I see most recipes include ideas and suggestions for substitutions, and flavor options. This is Art.

Karen emailed us a link to the schedule she would like us to follow. Ah, the sauces! I smiled to myself. I had already read this section, and was thinking about finding capers, and planting chervil and parsley. It also had me thinking about mortars and pestles, and garlic.

My own mortar and pestle is a family heirloom, a treasured kitchen essential, a molcajete, and tejolote lovingly, generously bestowed upon me by my mother, Delia.

The Wiki article explains my concerns very well... molcajetes do not scrupulously sanitize... hmmmm... that sounds a bit dicey. I manage to sanitize mine, by scrubbing it clean, then inverting it over our gas burner, with a low flame. But, it does get seasoned... and garlic crushed in the molcajete does make a lasting impression. The tiny nooks and crannies of the basalt stone catch particles of food, too, so a single clove of garlic can become almost lost in those little catches.

The tall pestle on the left is new, and still needs to be broken in. The one in the background is long, and was used on a metate, for grinding corn. It is ancient, as is the small, round pestle in the foreground.

I love my molcajete, and when it comes to grinding coriander and cumin, there is nothing better. The best part about it, it's been used for many, many years... it's broken in and doesn't break-up. New molcajetes need to be conditioned with heavy use that will loosen up the basalt that is going to break off. Small grains of basalt break away, making food gritty, and it takes some effort to get the mortar and pestle through this phase.

In many of her recipes, Alice Waters describes using garlic that has been made "creamy," using a mortar and pestle. I use a lot of garlic. Muchismo ajo. I use whole cloves, sliced cloves, diced, minced, and smashed, but I've never reached a "creamy" consistency... not with a garlic crusher, or the flat of a knife on the cutting board, or in my molcajete. So I decided to keep my eyes open for a small, garlic-dedicated mortar and pestle.

Introducing Little Mortar and Tiny Pestle!

I know... I said I was not too keen on adding gadgets and gizmos to my kitchen store, but a new venture calls for an open mind, a willingness to welcome change.

Before I could recommend this to anyone, I had to test it, and see for myself if I found it worthwhile. So out comes a clove of garlic, and into the mortar it goes!

Conclusion: It worked! In a matter of a few crushing motions, I achieved garlic creaminess. I do recommend this Little Mortar and Tiny Pestle.

Favorite: The easy clean-up is a welcome bonus. No problem storing it, either.

Found: It is at World Market, for less than four dollars!

Regrets: None.


ArtyZen said...

That is a teeny tiny pestle and mortar! I found your molcajete a bit scary to be honest. I am very fond of my dark marble one, which is incredibly heavy, but which can even turn salt creamy! (Well, if it's with the garlic...)
I dooo look forward to you sharing your culinary delights - however simple. Starting with creamy garlic works for me. We also eat ooooodles of it! Axxx

judy in ky said...

Fascinating! The recipes sound wonderful, and I hope you will share with us as you make them. I have become a bit uninspired with my cooking recently, and this is awakening my interest.

Natalie, the Chickenblogger said...

Annie, Judy, everyone... think about joining!
Karen's blog has the details... it's not a closed
group, or private. Last night she said the group is up to 107, including someone in Japan. The cook book is reasonably priced, and so far, I think it's got good stuff. Here is her sign-up link: http://artofsimplefood.com/how-to-sign-up/

Kim said...

That cooking project sounds awesome. I would love to do this one day. Your family heirloom molcajete is really cool; I love family heirlooms that you can USE. I have something similar in my family, it's a Japanese mortar & pestel called a Suribachi.
Ajo! More ajo!

ArtyZen said...

I love your comment with Annie and Judy together - my sister is Judy! Just off to follow the link, though I know the book is out of print here in the UK (cos I've looked for it already!) Axxx