If you love to cook then you probably lust over toys for your kitchen. I don’t want clothes, I don’t want jewellry, I want lovely jars, pots, pans, spoons, baking dishes and gadgets for my kitchen. I have recently converted to silicone baking dishes, mats and spoons. They last longer, they are non-stick and come in a range of bright pretty chirpy colours. I buy them off Ebay and I do feel rather special using them. It might sound like my kitchen is filled with gadgets but on the contrary I lust after them rather than buy them. I could never afford anything from the mecca of kitchen gadgets – Kitchen Aid. Perhaps my favourite “gadget” is my little collection of mortar and pestles .
So why a mortar and pestle when you can, with far less effort, use an electric mixie/blender/grinder – what ever you may call it. The answer is, it’s all about the smell. When you crush garlic, ginger, green chillies or shallots with a heavy bat shaped cylinder the aromas are far more than when they spin around in an electric grinder. Some believe that the heat produced in an electric grinder alters the flavour of a ginger-garlic paste.
Despite knowing all of this, I never had a mortar and pestle in my kitchen in England so the first one I bought was around 5 months after I got married and we moved to Wellington in the Nilgiris. It was from a roadside stone mason in Coimbatore where I hopped out of the cool air-conditioned car in to the blistering May heat to inspect the stone mason’s wares on the roadside And frankly, I was disappointed. For one, I had in mind the mortar and pestle in my mother’s kitchen which she got from a friend who got it from Malaysia. It’s the ideal shaped bowl – wide and shallow. But I saw nothing like it at this roadside shop. All they had was varying sizes of narrow towers for bowls. Although a bit dejected I bought one for it was a functional need at that point. I’ve used it for 3 years now without much love for it – it’s cold and dark and grey and resembles a Shiva Lingum. And frankly, I haven’t used it as much as I should, despite being a believer in the mortar and pestles because I just didn’t like the one I had. The main problem with the cylinder shape is that you can’t see into the bowl to see how the paste is coming together.
The second mortar and pestle, I acquired a few months ago from my aunt. I love the tininess and whiteness of this porcelain mortar and pestle. It’s the right size for one or two cloves of garlic. The shape of the bowl is ideal but sadly the pestle is a little too short to be effective as one doesn’t get enough of a handle to grip. The principal is, the heavier the tool, the easier the job. It’s the kind of mortar and pestle I’d expect to find in a Chinese herbal medicine apothecary.
A couple of Sundays ago, while shopping at our local farmer’s market/mandi my dear husband spotted a real treasure at a tiny stall which I usually avoid because he sells wicker baskets, designs that don’t appeal to me. But hiding behind the baskets,trays and pen stands were three mortar and pestles of different sizes. Naturally I had to have the biggest one. It’s made of bamboo root so I suspect it’s quite hardy. I’ve used it everyday, even if there was no real need for ginger/garlic paste. Then I realised that if you have a mortar and pestle that you love, cherish and have looked so long for, then it’s a real pleasure to crush your own spices and herbs as one looks with scorn at the electric mixie. Despite the added effort, it’s a real joy to see a paste come together. Add a tiny drop of water and a pinch of salt for best results – the friction the salt provides will help you mash your spices more easily.
It’s almost relaxing to pound away at whole spices while imagining what your dish is going to look and smell like, almost meditative. OK, so it might seem like I’m making a huge deal about this mechanical gadget but like food, it is the simplest that is the most desirable. And like in carpentry or DIY. you need to have the right tool for the job. Perhaps it’s my belief in that statement that prevents me from grudging the vast amount of tools for tiny jobs that my husband buys for his workshop on Ebay… and perhaps why he indulges my quest of kitchen toys. If I haven’t convinced you of the joys of a mortar and pestle – “I don’t have time”, you say – then all I can say to that is, in this world where everything is just a whizz bang away, it’s nice to take the time over the simple things, like grinding spices.