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May 2, 2010 01:31 PM

Uses for this unusual mortar & pestle?

My boyfriend moved out of the country this weekend. He'll be back in a few months but he gave me all his kitchen appliances & utensils before he left. One of the items, which from what he told me was something a friend had given him, was a mortar & pestle that's made of some kind of porous material I've never seen a mortar & pestle made of before. It's heavy but really rough & grainy with lots of little nooks & crannies. It looks a lot like pumice.

It's a pretty nice, albeit confusing piece. I would like to use it for spices & such but I'm afraid it would be difficult to clean any little bits that get stuck in there. I'd be afraid to grind anything in it for that matter. Anyone seen one of these before & have suggestions for use/cleanup after use? I think my boyfriend used it to make guacamole a couple of times but I don't have any other ideas.

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  1. Sounds like a Mexican Molcajete, made from vesicular basalt (like pumice but harder)

    2 Replies
    1. re: paulj

      I believe you are correct. My boyfriend is Guatemalan and the friend who gave it to him was from Mexico. It looks exactly like the one pictured in the wikipedia entry. So from reading that I guess I could use it for spices but it will kind of get seasoned like a cast iron pan. That's pretty cool. I didn't know exactly what it was called. Thanks for the link!

      1. re: notjessica

        rice is often used to condition the molcajete but just grinding a bunch of garlic and chilis will really get it seasoned

    2. I second Paulj. It is a Molcajete.

      1. This doesn't sound like a molcajete, which has no ridges. It sounds like a Japanese suribachi.

        2 Replies
        1. re: pikawicca

          I had one of those that I thought was a molcajete. It was a PITA and I gave it away.

          1. I'd be reluctant to use it for spices until the molcajete and the tejolote have been worn very smooth. You're just going to end up with whole or nearly whole bits of cumin etc. hiding in the interstices.

            Meanwhile, use it for salsa. Crush a garlic clove, then a chile or several, then some tomatoes and whatever else strikes your fancy. Yum.

            3 Replies
            1. re: alanbarnes

              Goldsmiths used to periodically burn their floorboards to retrieve accumulated gold flakes that settled in the interstices in the wood grain. It's more likely that the voids in a pumice molcajete will fill with organics long before the voids are ground away, and cumin, annatto, or cinnamon would be a thrifty start!

              1. re: Veggo

                Good point. And the accumulated stuff would lend flavor to anything you make in the molcajete thereafter.

              2. re: alanbarnes

                I think this is why raw rice is often recommended for the conditioning of the molcajete. It will fill the voids quickly but unlike other aromatics will lack any carryover flavors

              3. In some places in Mexico, they serve a type of stew in the molcajete. They are very very heavy, and are a PIA to store if it's not something you use all the time. We use ours to grind spices, but also to grind a base paste of jalapeno, garlic, cilantro & etc before making certain dishes, like salsas or guacamole. Mine is fairly large, and on occassion, I've used it as a serving bowl for guac on a buffet. Always a conversation starter! Never, under any circumstance, drop it on your foot ; )

                If you are not familiar with the pronunciation, it's mole-ka-HEH-tay. The next thing you need to get is a comal to roast those spices, peppers, tomatillos & etc.