My formula for stress relief at the end of a long day: break out the molcajete and make some salsa. That’s what I did last night.

A molcajete is pretty much a the Mexican version of a mortar and pestle with Aztec origins. Mine came from a side street market in Mexico City and weighs 10 pounds (thank goodness my husband got it before the airlines started charging you to check your bags).

Made of volcanic rock, the molcajete’s porous surface absorbs the flavors of what has been ground in it before. So the garlic rub you might have used to start off a salsa a month ago will leave hints of flavor in the guacamole you make today; every batch is entirely unique.

For instructions on how to season your molcajete you can check out my post on Wandering Educators.

To create a basic tomato salsa at home using a molcajete here’s what you need:


Time to mash the garlic

Prep time: 15 minutes (depending on how hard you grind)

Servings: 4


3 Roma tomatoes, chopped into slices* (See note)

2 slices onion

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

1 garlic clove, peeled

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (or 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds)

Then the onions...

1 lime

Peppers (you can use whatever kind of heat your family prefers–cayenne powder, fresh serrano peppers, jalapenos)


  1. Place the cumin and garlic in the molcajete bowl. Grind into a paste using the hand tool.
  2. Next, grind the pepper of your choice in the molcajete bowl. I often use dried chiles, but fresh is great too.
  3. Add the tomatoes, onion, and cilantro to the molcajete and start grinding. (My kids have fun doing this).
  4. Mix in salt to taste and serve at your table in the molcajete.

salsa ready to serve

*Note: Many salsa recipes call for you to remove the tomato skins before grinding. I’ve found that the skin comes off during the process and you can take it out easily. Another option is to use drained, canned tomatoes. These work well, especially the roasted variety.

Your turn: Have you ever used a molcajete? What about a mortar and pestle?

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