Check out this suribachi (“grinding bowl”). It’s a Japanese-style mortar and pestle. Over the last year I have become a big fan of this piece of cooking equipment because the design is perfect for making pastes and pestos. Essentially it’s a ceramic bowl with an unglazed, textured inside. With a wooden pestle, you grind foods against the ridges inside the bowl. It’s similar to other tools you may know (a Mexican Molcajete, an Italian mortar and pestle made from marble, or a Indonesian style mortar and pestle made from basalt/volcanic rock), but those ridges make all the difference. You can make smooth, creamy pastes really efficiently. And like other mortar and pestles you can work with very small quantities which is handy and impossible with a food processor or mini chop.
[Where to get it: I got mine at Kamei Restaurant Supply on Clement Street in SF, but you can pick one up on Amazon.]
The surbachi is now my go to for:
Garlic Paste: Instead of mincing garlic (which is a pain!) I often make a paste instead. I add coarse salt and peeled garlic cloves to my suribachi, bash the garlic a few times with the pestle, then begin grinding against the side of the bowl. In about a minute I have a perfectly smooth, velvety garlic paste. So useful for all kinds of recipes.
Simple Dressings and Sauces: To the garlic paste (the same technique works with shallots too) I add fresh herbs and continue grinding. When the herbs are incorporated into the paste, I drizzle lemon juice (or vinegar) and a good amount of olive oil. A few final turns with the pestle is all you need to combine everything into a beautiful dressing like this zesty, herby Argentine chimichurri.
Pesto: These days I make most of my pestos in my suribachi. It does take considerable effort (10-15 minutes of grinding by hand) but it’s well worth it. I was blown away by the pesto Genovese (the classic basil and pine nut pesto) I made by hand compared to a pesto I made with the very same ingredients in a blender. The handmade version is far creamier and much more vibrant.
If you want to know what I’m talking about, check out this video of Chef Paolo Laboa of Farina restaurant in San Francisco making pesto Genovese the traditional way. I have studied this video dozens of times and I never could achieve the same consistency that he does using a smooth, Italian mortar and pestle. The suribachi, however, is a game changer. Pesto on a whole different level!