My Mortar and Pestle and a Guacamole Recipe

My Mortar and Pestle and a Guacamole Recipe

Mortar and Pestle

My favorite kitchen tool is a stone mortar and pestle. It sits proudly on my kitchen counter, holding its own in a caveman-esque sort of way, flaunting its primal elegance in between the commercial stove and espresso machine.  It’s smugly confident in its weight and kitchen hierarchy (deemed decorative) while my food processor and standing mixer are banished behind cabinet doors (deemed clutter.)   New kitchen techniques are awe-inspiring and futuristic, yet my mortar is old and wise with a lineage extending as far back as the Old Testament.  Evaporators, anti-griddles, gastro-vacs may be cutting edge, favored by professional chefs and avant-garde molecular gastronomy experts, but my mortar has a stellar history as an essential tool to Native Americans, ancient Romans and Greeks, medieval pharmacists and home cooks spanning the ages from the dawn of civilization.  It is the embodiment of simplicity and timelessness, pleasingly tactile and massively elemental.  And it’s affordable.

What can you do with a mortar and pestle?  You can grind, pound and smash to your heart’s content, making pestos, pastes, sauces, dips, dressings and marinades.  You can grind seeds into powder.  (I assure you the results of lightly toasting cardamon, cumin or coriander seeds and then grinding them to a fine powder in a mortar will yield results unparalleled by the pre-ground versions.)  The mortar is also the perfect place to smash garlic with sea salt, adding fresh cut herbs such as rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, mint. Crush the garlic first with the salt, then add the herbs and bruise them by giving them a few turns with the pestle to release their juices and flavor.  You will be left with a powerful, aromatic paste you can smear on meats and poultry before roasting.

Mortar 001 Mortar 006

You can also create a complete dish and serve it in the mortar. Try making guacamole. Serve with chips, and you have one-stop-shopping in a primitive vessel.

Guacamole Ingredients Guacamole

Guacamole

If you don’t have a mortar, then simply combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mash with a fork to achieve a chunky consistency. Makes about 2 cups.

1 red or green jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
3 large ripe hass avocados
2 tablespoons coarsely grated yellow onion with juice
Juice of one lime
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco

Prepare:
Combine the jalapeño, garlic, and red onion in a mortar. Press on the ingredients with your pestle, and grind them around the mortar in a circular movement, 3 to 4 times.  Add the cilantro and gently bruise the leaves with the pestle. Add the avocados, yellow onion, and lime juice and mash to form a blended but chunky consistency. Stir in the cumin, salt, black pepper, and hot sauce and taste for seasoning.

Nacho Night

Nacho Night

Nachos

It’s Nacho Night at our house.  Yes, I confess.  Foodie I may be, parent I certainly am, health minded almost always.  But there is a time and place for nachos, and tonight is the night. Is it possible to call nachos healthy?  I suppose, or, where there is a will there is a way.  But if you bear with me a moment, I will try to list the merits of a homemade platter of nachos for an easy, family dinner.  Or, rather, I will repeat the arguments my 13 year-old presented me with when he implored that we have nachos for dinner tonight.  I fell for it.

These nachos are meatless.  The chips are layered simply with grated cheese, green onions and black olives (deferring to the pickier sensibilites of my 10 year-old.)  Grilled under the oven broiler until the cheese melts and the chips turn a bit brown, the nachos are then served with bowls of homemade guacamole and salsa on the side.  Both of these sides are healthy, and loaded with veggies.  I have tried different chips and prefer a good quality corn chip, but if you wish to up the ante, Trader Joe’s carries Flaxseed chips. They are as equally high in fat as regular chips, but offer the added flaxseed,  and taste good to boot.  Finally, nachos score big in the social department: Great for a crowd, family friendly, fun to eat, and just in time for the Superbowl.  So, maybe not the healthiest, but they sure make up for it in the fun and camaraderie department.  These days, this kind of fun eating is a bright spot in our day.  Are you convinced yet?

Nachos with Guacamole and Tomato Salsa
Serves 4-6

12 oz. (350 grams) corn tortilla chips
3/4 lb. grated cheese (monterey jack, cheddar or combination)
1/2 cup pitted black olives, sliced
8 green onions (scallions), ends trimmed, finely sliced
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, stemmed, sliced thinly or 1/4 cup bottled, sliced jalapenos

On a rectangular baking sheet, or oven-proof serving platter arrange half the chips in one layer.  Sprinkle with half the cheese.  Cover with remaining chips in one layer.  Sprinkle with half the remaining cheese.  Evenly arrange olives, green onions, jalapenos over chips.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Place under pre-heated oven grill.  Grill until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Serve immediately with Salsa and Guacamole.


For the Guacamole
:
Makes about 2 cups

1 small red onion, diced
1/2 small yellow onion, grated, with juices
1/2 red serrano chile pepper, stemmed, seeded, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 ripe avocados
Juice of one lime
dash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1/4 cup chopped cilantro/coriander sprigs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium sized bowl combine onions, chile pepper, garlic, avocados, lime juice and hot sauce.

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Mash avocados with a fork and mix ingredients together, keeping a lumpy consistency.  Add cilantro and stir in.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tip:  Guacamole can be made up to 4 hours in advance.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap to prevent discoloration.  Also, try putting an avocado pit into the middle of the guacamole to help prevent discoloration.

For the Tomato Salsa:
also known as Pico de Gallo
Makes about 3 cups

1 1/2 cups pasata or tomato purée
3 plum tomatoes, seeded, diced
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
1 sweet red pepper, cored, seeded,finely  diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded, minced
1 serrano chile pepper, stemmed, seeded, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro/coriander leaves
1 teaspoon dried cumin
Juice from 1/2 lime, about 1 tablespoon
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salsa

Make the Salsa:
Combine all the ingredients in a medium sized bowl.  Stir to mix well.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  Let sit at least one hour and up to 4 hours before serving.

Note
: The ingredients and amounts are a general suggestion.  Add or omit spices and chiles to your desired taste.