An age-old piece of cooking equipment, the mortar holds the object while the pestle crushes it with downward pressure, followed by grinding. Made from ceramic, wood, rock or metal, a mortar and pestle is traditionally used for grinding spices and making sauces and pestos. If you don’t have one, you may have another suitable item in your kitchen.
A rolling pin can work in place of a mortar and pestle for items such as onions, garlic or fresh herbs and spices. Chop the herbs first, then crush them with the rolling pin. While this will work as an alternative to a mortar and pestle, it is messier and requires more cleanup.
Bowl and Small Hammer
A mortar is shaped like a bowl, which is a potential alternative. A small hammer can take the place of the pestle, though it should be cleaned before use on food items. Take extra care not to break the bowl. Use a motion similar to that of a mortar and pestle: Press downward into the bowl with the hammer to crush the item. Grinding is less effective because the bowl can break with too much vigorous grinding.
A spice grinder will grind up the spices or herbs in a similar manner to crushing them. The oils are not extracted as well from a spice grinder, but it does powder the spices for easy cooking. Place the spices in the grinder, press the button to turn it on and the job done.
A blender, like a spice grinder, will powder and grind up spices or any other ingredients. The problem with a blender is that it needs a larger quantity of spices to work effectively, as the spices or herbs must cover the blades. A quality blender will minimize problems, but it is less effective than a mortar and pestle for small amounts of herbs or spices.
References and ResourcesSan Francisco Chronicle: Our 10 Favorite Tools
Gourmet Sleuth: Mortar and Pestle