I often hear my female friends scoff at the money their husband or boyfriend pours into power tools and other garage-type thingies. They’ll say something like “He just had to have that third cordless drill,” with unsubtle sarcasm and a roll of their eyes. But the truth is, ladies, I totally get the obsession with having the right tool for the job. True, I may need to cut off my husband’s account at our local auto parts store, but can I really blame him?
After all, I display the same lack of control in any kitchen shop. If you ever want to distract me for hours on end, just point me in the direction of a Crate&Barrel or Williams-Sonoma. My kitchen drawers are busting at their dovetailed seams with special gadgets for getting those pesky peels off garlic cloves, extracting every last bit of juice from citrus, and a spatula in every shape (and size and color) that is manufactured. We even had to install extra shelving to hold my collection of small appliances, woks, choppers, and mixers.
One item, however, that was always missing from my compilation of cookware was a mortar and pestle. It wasn’t for lack of exposure, since any kitchen shop worth its salt offers a mortar and pestle (or two or three) in their product line. No, what held me back was my desire to own a traditional Mexican mortar and pestle – an authentic one made from volcanic rock. And what better place to get one of those than in the country of origin? On a recent trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (made possible by an amazingly generous invitation from good friends who own a vacation home there) I met my molcajete (mole-ca-het-tay), which is the Mexican word for mortar and pestle. She (my molcajete) cost 200 pesos, which is only about $16 dollars US, but I guarantee you she’s a priceless souvenir I’ll treasure forever.
Now, don’t let her simple design fool you. The molcajete needs special care and primping before she’s ready for food prep. Over the last few weeks I’ve been coaxing and scrubbing and seasoning Ms. Mole (that’s what I call her now) so she can help me with my summertime salsas and guacamoles. If you’re considering adopting a molcajete of your own, here’s what needs to be done.
Step 1: Submerge the molcajete in water and scrub to remove any dirt or loose pieces. Don’t put the molcajete in the dishwaster and don’t use dishwashing liquid or other soaps.
Step. 2: Allow molcajete to air dry.
Step 3: Grind uncooked wet rice, one handful at a time, in the molcajete until the rice turns gray. Remove ground rice and repeat several times until the rice remains white when ground.
Step 4: Grind a handful of rock salt in the molcajete until it is fine salt or powder.
Step 5: Rinse and repeat this process several times, grinding more rock salt until the bowl of the molcajete is smooth to the touch.
Step 6: Grind 4 cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper in the molcajete until a paste forms. Allow mixture to sit for 24 hours.
Step 7. Rinse the paste out of the molcajete and allow molcajete to air dry.
Steps 3 and 4 may need to be repeated after several uses of the molcajete to keep it well seasoned.
The first thing I made in my molcajete was a favorite Better Homes & Gardens recipe for Chunky Guacamole. Ms. Mole performed beautifully, mashing the ingredients to a perfect consistency with style and grace. As my husband and I were digging in to the tasty avocado dip, I told him I think Ms. Mole needs a companion on the appliance shelf – maybe that new Vitamix blender I’ve been wanting. He just rolled his eyes.