UPDATED June 17th, 2017

In the wonderfully tasty world of cooking (and eating) there are a ton of tools and gadgets that can help enhance your dining experience and open up the door to recipes and flavors you never knew were possible. Some tools are staples in your kitchen (tongs, whisk, food processor, spatula etc.), while others you probably never thought you needed. We’re going to put a pestle and mortar in the latter category, because most people don’t think they would ever use one. (P.S. – they’re wrong.) If you’re not sure what a mortar and pestle is, it is that hefty (and often heavy) bowl and blunt shaped object that can come in materials ranging from marble to granite to ceramic. It is used to crush, grind and mix everything from herbs and spices to pastes and sauces.

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Sure, sometime it seems like this ancient device is outdated and has been replaced by the food processor, but trust us: you really should have a mortar and pestle in your kitchen. The way you cook and the way your food tastes will be drastically improved just by using this simple tool to grind/mash/mix ingredients. According to an article in the Washington Post, “when you use a mortar and pestle, you work more fully, and with greater control, to release the ingredients’ oils and incorporate them, marrying their flavors. In a machine, you’re simply combining them.” Perhaps the difference between average food and amazing food is about how you prepare your ingredients, and maybe—just maybe—a mortar and pestle is the missing link you’ve been looking for all this time. Here are 8 recipes that prove how badly you need more pestle and mortar action in your life.


1. Guacamole
We’ve pretty much never met a guacamole we didn’t like, but truth be told, the guac you enjoy in restaurants, especially the special ones that are prepared table side, are made with a mortar and pestle. And raise your hand if you can taste the difference. Us too. You can actually taste the cilantro, lime juice, jalapeño and onions. The dip isn’t simply mixed together; it’s actually mashed so that all the ingredients come together perfectly.

2. Mario Batali’s Pesto Sauce
Sure, you could make pesto sauce with a food processor or blender, or if you’re really lazy you can just buy it in the store. Or you could do it the proper way, the way the Italians do it, the way Mario Batali does it, and grind the ingredients together in a stone mortar to make a perfect paste that will blow your mind.


3. Coleslaw with Creamy Cumin Vinaigrette
Basic coleslaw is often an afterthought that you barely touch, but this dish is so good you won’t be able to stop eating it, and that’s because the flavors are seriously complex and perfectly balanced. The addition of cumin seeds, which have been crushed in a mortar and pestle, add a major dose of nutty flavor and spice that makes the dish special.

4. Grilled Chicken Breasts with North African Spice Paste
If you’re looking for new and exciting ways to prepare basic dishes like grilled chicken, then all you need is some flavorful seasoning to kick your dish up a notch. Grab some spices and create a tasty paste that is earthy, complex and amazing.


5. Essential Roasted Tomato-Jalapeno Salsa
Every good guacamole deserves a delicious salsa, and this salsa is smooth, spicy, aromatic and delicious. It takes more time and care than just chopping some tomatoes and onions, but it’s so worth the effort. The use of a mortar to really crush the ingredients and grind them together makes a big difference, and you’ll soon understand why this ancient method of preparation was such a common practice in Mexico.

6. Thai Curry
A mortar and pestle is a staple in any Thai kitchen and it’s typically used to create the curry pastes you have come to love so much. This dry Thai curry takes some muscle to really pulverize the ingredients together to make a paste, but the result is a curry that is so loaded with deep flavor you’ll have a hard time caring about all the time you spent grinding and mashing and grinding some more. 


7. Nancy’s Chopped Salad
A salad isn’t just a salad when it’s loaded with fresh veggies, salami, cheese and it is then doused in a thick, delicious dressing. And while simply whisking a dressing together might usually work, this dressing requires a mortar and pestle to not just mix, but also grind and mash the ingredients together until you have more of a paste and less of a liquid.

8. Mango & Smoked Chorizo Sandwich with Blackened Chicken and Chimichurri
This tropical version of a chicken sandwich is sure to make your taste buds happy, and it’s crucial you use a mortar and pestle to ensure the key ingredients are as flavorful as possible. The blackened spice rub for the chicken has to be ground up with cumin seeds, chili powder and chipotle powder. And while the recipe suggests you use a blender for the chimichurri sauce, you can actually use a mortar and pestle for that piece as well.

Photos 3 courtesy of Food Network.com