The voice of Diana Kennedy, the fire-breathing diva of Mexican cuisine, echoed in my inner ear: "No self-respecting cook in this hemisphere should be without this classic piece of kitchen equipment." Well, I'm a self-respecting cook. And I live in this hemisphere. " This is Ed Bruske reporting in the Washington Post on his shopping adventure to buy a molcajetes on a trip to Mexico.
"In Mexico, mortar and pestle translates as molcajete y tejolote. The traditional implements are carved from black basalt, or lava rock, typically mined in the state of Jalisco.
The best molcajetes are black or dark gray. Anything lighter in color and chalky could be problematic, meaning the stone is too soft and will never stop shedding grit and dust into your food. Beware especially of molcajetes made of concrete. Buy only from a reputable dealer, and expect to pay between $25 and $45 for a standard molcajete -- usually eight inches in diameter and two inches deep -- made of quality basalt.
Before putting food in your molcajete, you must season it by grinding uncooked rice or dry corn (see below for directions) completely around the interior surface. This will probably require several applications over several hours, thoroughly cleaning the molcajete with hot water and a stiff brush each time. (Do not use detergent, as this can adversely flavor the porous stone.) Continue the process until the powdered material emerges clean and untainted by any grit.
Use your molcajete for grinding seeds, nuts, spices and herbs, and to make a variety of seasoning pastes and salsas.To season, put one-third cup uncooked rice or dried corn in the molcajete. Grind it up with the pestle, or tejolote, occasionally tilting and turning the molcajete to reach the entire interior surface. Do this for 30 minutes or until the grain is a fine powder and your arm muscles are burning. The first time you do this, the powdered grain will be gray from fine basalt granules shed by the molcajete. Repeat the process five or six times over a period of days until there is no longer any grit in the finished grain. We prefer to use dried corn (available at Latin markets) because it seems to leave a slight coating of corn oil in the stone for a glorious finish."