We're all familiar with the sinking feeling that happens when you cruise through a recipe, only to arrive at an instruction that calls for a tool you don't have. Some of the best food hacks (and my personal favorites) exist to combat that problem. Why spend money on a kitchen tool—or worse, avoid a recipe altogether—when you could find a new way to achieve the same result?
One of the easiest kitchen tools to replace is the mortar and pestle. It's also extremely useful to find a substitute, as many people don't own or have the space for one, yet it's commonly called for in recipes. Here are my three favorite replacements so that you can smash your spices and aromatics with ease.
A coffee grinder is virtually identical to a spice grinder, making it a great mortar and pestle substitute. The key, however, is to clean your coffee grinder before and after. If you don't, you'll end up with coffee-flavored spices—and extremely bizarre coffee.
Make sure to set your coffee grinder to a level of fineness that resembles what your recipe calls for. Then simply throw your spices in the grinder, mix it up, and you'll have a product identical to what a mortar and pestle would produce.
Note: this tip only works for dry ingredients. A coffee grinder will replicate the results of a mortar and pestle on peppercorns, cumin seeds, and similar ingredients, but will emphatically fail at smashing garlic and ginger.
My favorite way to replace a mortar and pestle for soft ingredients (garlic, chilies, herbs, et al.) is with a mug and a cutting board. Simply cut your ingredients into thin slices, then give them a good smashing with the underside of your favorite coffee mug (the heavier the mug, the better).
Conversely, if your recipe only calls for herbs, you can skip the smashing and simply slap them to release the flavors and aromatic oils.
There's a limit to how hard you can smash a mug before it breaks. While a mug is ideal for soft ingredients, there's a chance you'll be drinking coffee from your hands in the morning if you keep using it to pulverize star anise.
For really hard spices and seeds, use a stronger blunt object, like a cast-iron skillet, meat tenderizer, or rolling pin. Make sure to put the dry ingredients in a ziplock bag first or else you'll create a mess and lose a lot of your hard work.
These are three ways to replace a mortar and pestle, but you can let your imagination run wild to find even more solutions. Do you have any great hacks that have saved you when a recipe calls for a mortar and pestle?
Save even more space, time, and money in your kitchen by learning why chopsticks are the best cooking tools you aren't using (along with a good pair of kitchen shears), and why tongs have so many more uses than just grabbing hot food.