Last Updated on July 14, 2022
Once you get your mortar and pestle into your kitchen and ready to use, whether it’s a KROK or one of the other 12 mortar and pestles we recommended, it’s time to put the tool to use. If you’ve been cooking for years or decades without one, you might not know what to prepare with a mortar and pestle.
Luckily, there are numerous uses for your mortar and pestle, from sauces and marinades to butters and dips. There are even uses outside the kitchen. We’ve collected 15 of the most useful mortar and pestle recipes. So grab some fresh ingredients and get to grinding and pounding.
This article was brought to you by KROK, a small business that preserves and promotes the Thai tradition of handcrafted granite mortars and pestles.
Even though the best tool for guacamole is the traditional Mexican mortar, the molcajete, any granite mortar with large capacity can be used to make this dip. All you need are some fresh avocados, a tomato, a red onion, a few chilis, and lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Mash them together and dip your favorite tortilla chips or add it to any taco or burrito.
This is a common recipe that people use a food processor but where the results of using a mortar and pestle are dramatically seen. A food processor only finely cuts the ingredients while a mortar and pestle will smash and grind the ingredients (especially the garlic and basil), causing the cell walls to break down and release scents and juices that are unreachable with a food processor. Your pesto will be creamier, tastier, and will have a stronger fragrance.
3. Salad Dressings
A mortar and pestle is perfect for many salad dressings because it can crush dry ingredients down into a paste before being mixed with the necessary liquid. For example, a Caesar dressing calls for garlic and anchovies which you can break down in the mortar before adding the oil and egg yolks for emulsification.
A parsley-based sauce that is popular in Argentina and Uruguay, chimichurri is easiest made in a mortar. You can break apart the parsley leaves to your desired fineness before adding the other varying ingredients like minced garlic, oils, red pepper flakes, and red wine vinegar. This is perfect over almost any grilled meat but adding it to salads or cooked vegetables can make any dish exciting.
As a liquid, paste, or dry mixture, marinades are perfect for intensifying flavors and tenderizing and moistening raw meats. You can buy pre-made marinades in bottles but creating your own in a mortar gives you control over the flavors you want to be present. For a simple steak marinade, add thyme, a handful of garlic cloves, some olive oil, and a half cup of red wine into the mortar, breaking down all the larger ingredients into a paste. Cover your raw meat in the marinade overnight then cook as usual for incredibly delicious steaks.
This is a dried spice blend popular in Middle Eastern and North African cuisines. Made with sesame seeds, dried oregano, dried thyme, and the ingredient unique to Western palates, ground sumac. Made from the dark red berry of the sumac shrub, sumac has a tangy, lemony flavor. Za’atar can be used as a spice on top of cooked dishes, a marinade, or combined with olive oil as a dipping spice for bread.
7. Garam Masala
There are numerous variations to this South Asian spice blend, depending on country, region, and even family tradition. It can be used to flavor soups, stews, curries, and really anything else. Ingredients can vary wildly but typically include black peppercorns, black and green cardamom, mace, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. All the ingredients should be dried and ground to a fine powder with the mortar and pestle.
Another spice blend common in the Middle East and North Africa, baharat can be used as a dry rub on almost any meat or can be combined with olive oil and lemon juice to create a paste for marinades. The ingredients should all be dried and ground in the mortar, typically: paprika, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, nutmeg, coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom pods. Baharat and the previous two recipes were traditionally made in the mortar and pestle and it’s still the way for you to get the best results and have complete control over your spices.
Like mayonnaise but 100 times better, aioli should consist of only garlic and olive oil (and maybe some salt). To make it with your mortar and pestle, first crush the garlic down in the mortar and then use your pestle to emulsify the olive oil and salt into a whipped, creamy sauce. Originating around the French/Spanish border, this sauce can be used on just about anything: grilled meats, fish, vegetables, and even as a delectable topping for French fries.
This Middle Eastern dip is fairly common at many restaurants but is many times store-bought or overly blended in a food processor. To get a chunkier, fresher, more authentic version, just use your mortar and pestle. Use some salt to grind down a few garlic cloves in the mortar before adding your chickpeas for mashing. Then you’re ready to start mixing in the tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil.
11. Curry Paste
Curry pastes usually contain long lists of ingredients and are most common in Indian and Thai dishes. Even with endless curry recipes to choose from, all of them will have stronger, fresher tastes if you grind your own ingredients for the curries. For recipes like this with numerous dry ingredients, it might be beneficial to grind them down in the mortar and pestle in batches instead of all at once.. To give you an example of an ingredient list, Thai green curry uses green chilies, lemongrass stalks, lime, garlic, shallots, holy basil, shrimp paste, coriander seeds, palm sugar, salt, and oil!
Similar to a chimichurri, gremolata is a green sauce used in some Italian dishes. Most popularly, it is the garnish for osso bucco, a Milanese braised veal shank. The ingredient list is very simple: parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. Add your ingredients into the mortar then break everything down with the pestle. Use as a garnish for any Italian dish you desire.
13. Flavored Salts
These simple products are always surprisingly expensive at grocery stores. All you need is some dried herbs and a coarse salt, then mix and grind with your pestle and mortar. You can also use fresh herbs if you plan on using the flavored salt on the same day (or next day). Literally any single herb would work lovely, and you can also play around with combinations of whatever you think will go together well. Just add to a dish while cooking or you can serve in a small bowl on the table for everybody to use.
14. Compound Butters
A compound butter is just butter mixed with one or more ingredients to add flavor. To make it, just let your butter come up to room temperature, then pound it until creamy, and finally add the additional ingredients and mix. Once mixed, put it on cling wrap or foil, roll into a log, and refrigerate for future use. Slice what you need off the log, wrap it back up, and put it back into the fridge for later. The options are as endless as flavored salt but for a truly unique experience, mix a few tablespoons of whiskey into the softened butter, refrigerate, and place a chunk on any grilled meat you serve.
15. Medicinal Salves
While all the previous options were for your kitchen, pestles and mortars have been used for millennia to create medicinal salves and is still used as the universal symbol of a pharmacist. In the Alchemy of the Mortar & Pestle, the Culinary Library offers this miracle skin lotion: vitamin E tablets, vitamin A tablets, almond oil, avocado oil, olive oil, and sesame oil. Your mortar and pestle might have been the answer to perfect skin all along.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for what you can do with this tool. Starting with these mortar and pestle recipes will help you unlock the potential of this ancient tool and see the impact it can have on the flavors and smells from your kitchen. Don’t have a mortar and pestle yet? Head to krokcraft.com to order the best granite mortar and pestle, handcrafted in Thailand by local artisans.