A traditional molcajete makes creating perfect guacamole easy and quick.
I have been fascinated by molcajetes since I saw a native Mexican woman making roasted salsa in one in Central Mexico (read “The Volcano’s Miracle”). I’ve even cruised markets in Mexico to buy one, but have always been stopped by the idea of schlepping several pounds of rock home on the plane.
For those of you who don’t know, a molcajete (pronounced mol-ka-heh-tay) is a lava rock mortar and pestle. It usually has three “feet” on which a large, rough-surfaced bowl made of lava rock sits. There’s another triangular shaped lava rock that serves as the grinding pestle. The molcajete is an efficient and traditional cooking tool that’s been used for thousands of years. Essentially, it’s a manual food processor. In Mexico, the molcajete is most commonly used for grinding spices or corn for masa, and for making salsas and guacamole.
In Central Mexico, I watched a Native Mexican take onions, tomatoes, and habanero peppers right off the grill and put them into her molcajete where she simply ground them into a smoky, chunky, spicy salsa. There was no chopping, no dicing, no fuss. It was fast and efficient and the salsa she made was fresh and delicious.
So when I learned that a cookware company, IMUSA, was selling authentic lava rock molcajetes made in Mexico, I just had to have one. IMUSA is an ethnic housewares brand with roots in Latin America that sells affordable housewares and specialty products like the molcajete. Unlike in the molcajetes sold in the markets of Mexico, my IMUSA molcajete arrived packed in a colorful box and wrapped in plastic. It also came with instructions for seasoning and prepping the molcajete for use. This takes some time, so don’t expect to buy a IMUSA molcajete and whip up some guacamole the same day.
Clean and Season
A molcajete must be thoroughly cleaned before using. Since it’s made from volcanic rock, the molcajete puts off a fine grit until it’s cleaned. Following IMUSA’s instructions, I scrubbed the inside of the molcajete and the pestle with water and a stiff brush. Sure enough, fine gray grit came off. Then I allowed the mortar and pestle to air dry completely.
Now it was time to season my molcajete. Traditionally, they’re seasoned by crushing several cloves of garlic and letting the garlic mash sit in the molcajete bowl for 24 hours. I did this and noticed some of my garlic had bits of grit on it.
The next day, I scrubbed the garlic off the mortar with a brush and water. Since I wanted to make sure all the grit was gone, I followed the instructions and added a handful of wet, uncooked rice and ground that into the bowl. The instructions said to repeat the process until the rice stayed white. It took only one round of rice and the grit disappeared. (For a final cleaning step, you can also grind in rock salt until the salt is clear of grit.)
Guacamole in a Snap
Then it was onto guacamole making. I used Chef George Duran’s recipe for Mango Guacamole that came with the molcajete. The recipe calls for mashing half of the diced mango and one
avocado into a pulp with the mortar and pestle and it was amazingly easy and fast to do with the molcajete. In just a moment, the avocado and mango was a sweet, silky texture. Then I folded in the other ingredients inside the molcajete and it was ready to serve. The molcajete made making the guacamole quick and simple and the lava rock created a dramatic serving dish for my guacamole. I’m going to have a lot of fun making and serving guacamole to my friends at my next Mexican-themed dinner. Now if I can just figure out how that Mexican woman made that salsa…
IMUSA molcajetes and other ethnic cooking products are available at stores such as Macy’s and Target and online at Amazon.com. www.IMUSA.com