Why I Ditched a Food Processor for a Mortar and Pestle, with Recipe for Garlicky Seed and Spice Paste

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Most avid home cooks have their favorite time-saving gadgets and more often than not, one of them is a food processor. Somehow, I got my first food processor only a few years ago - after an entire adult lifetime of cooking. I was envious of how fast a friend of mine could whip up perfect pesto in such large quantities for freezing (in ice cube trays!). My gadget of choice had been an immersion blender (great for pureed soups) but it had broken for the third time and I was sick of replacing it. My new kitchen workhorse lasted only two years. Then the plastic container cracked and liquids leaked out when I used it.

I was one of the millions of victims of planned obsolescence and was just too mad to shell out the ridiculous amount of money to replace it. It’s in the basement now and I imagine it’ll be there forevermore. Now what?

For years, my husband would brag that his pestos were superior to mine (they were) because he made his the slow “stone-age way”  — with a huge mortar and pestle. We would just have to sit there with our naked pasta until he was quite done with all of that smashing. Now, this massive stone basin was going to be my new food processor and I had to get behind it both figuratively and literally. Actually, this switch fit neatly with a plan to wean our family off of the fossil-fuel-hungry tools of modern life and I have come to understand how every small thing we do makes us braver and more excited for the bigger shifts.

But, there is more than the practical to consider when using a mortar and pestle. So much more.

Pounding garlic and salt, herbs and spices, seeds, nuts, and oils is a full sensory experience — not something a food processor can ever boast with its whiny whir. As the pestle mashes, aromas are released and flavors are compounded to the sound of stone on stone. And, as much as my finger got a workout pressing the button on my old machine, the connection I feel to the food I am making when engaging my arms and hands (and nose), is actually pretty moving.

I might be considered a romantic — I know I am — but when I am making pastes and sauces in my large mortar and pestle, I do feel more connected to the art of cooking and to the many people who have preceded me in the kitchens of the world. And, unlike a food processor, when using a mortar and pestle, that is all you are doing. Your attention is only engaged in doing that one thing - and that one thing is multifaceted. The physical meets creativity as you smell and taste your way through creating something delicious that can elevate even the most simple food.

3/25/2019 1:28:04 PM

My fancy smancy garlic press that I overpaid for at a friends pampered chef party lasted 2 years, Another overpriced manual gadget purchased at bed bath and beyond didn't even last that long. All the while on my counter sat a marble mortar and pestle purchased for 5 dollars at a Pennsylvania flea market mainly for decoration (duh). The rest is history...I have been happily pounding garlic, dried chili peppers, nuts, even cocoa nibs with this wonderful ancient invention. If marble is good enough for tombstones its good enough for my kitchen!

3/25/2019 11:17:35 AM

Okay, that does it: we are going to subscribe to Mother Earth and follow you around. We grow four or five hundred head of garlic every year and I have inherited the mortar and pestle that my great grandfather the doctor used in his practice, and we will try garlic mashing right away...trusting that there are no remaining traces of the drugs. Also, we are experimenting now crushing fruit for cider with an improvised, large scale mortar and pestle - the three foot tall, iron, broad footed base for cobbler's lasts, after chopping the apples first with a straight bladed debarking and ice-chipping tool, and lastly whipping it some with the long beater- type of bit I use for mixing stucco. We are getting a new cider press, and may eventually get a manual crusher, but the giant mortar (spackle type bucket) and pestal is good honest work we can do sitting down. And yes, an apron may be needed during the electric drill immersion-mixing stage. .

3/25/2019 9:45:12 AM

A mortar and pestle is on my "to-be-gotten" list if, for nothing else, its ease of cleaning, as opposed to either a food processor or a blender.

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