Touch - Mortar & pestle cooking

Touch - Mortar & pestle cooking

By
Chui Lee Luk
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742702407
Photographer
Chris Chen

My mother was concentrating hard as she stood at the kitchen bench. She was grinding a fragrant paste with the mortar and pestle. I wondered if she was trying to ignore my question, but I repeated it anyway: how would she know when the paste was ground up enough? At last, with a sigh, she answered: ‘You shouldn’t be able to taste any fibre in the sauce. That’s the thing I take pride in.’ This left me wondering how that could be achieved. Yet again, I’d insisted on giving a helping hand, but found this hard to follow through with my little girl’s fingers and lack of endurance and coordination. My mother had decided to make a laksa lemak that day. The ingredients for the spice paste, or rempah, were before us. There were the soft, manageably sized ingredients: roasted blachan, fresh and dried chillies, peppercorns. There were the larger ingredients such as shallots and garlic. And then there were the stubborn, hard ingredients which I’d grown to dislike because there was no way of taming them into becoming fibre-less: galangal, lemongrass and turmeric.

My mother had to be doubly patient while I was in the kitchen. She had to slowly render these ingredients to a paste in a painstaking way, all the while fielding my questions and supervising my attempts to help.

Mother: Would you just keep the ingredients separate while I peel them? No, I can’t let you use the knife yet, just watch. You can’t simply push the galangal around in the mortar, it doesn’t do anything. Be careful of your fingers. I need to chop everything up so it’s easier to grind down. Yes, the chopped galangal first. Don’t add the lemongrass yet, let me pound the galangal a bit more to a paste first. So, do you understand now: hard ingredients, then soft ingredients? I know the mortar is a small one; I’ll just take out some of the paste so it doesn’t spill over the side. That’s the solution isn’t it? Well, it’s the only mortar we have here, so we just have to deal with it ...

The time and patience required to make paste in such a way with the mortar and pestle is perhaps not practicable for the preparation of an everyday meal, but is more an expression of interest in cooking as a hobby. My mother’s words have made me question the efficacy of making pastes in blenders and food processors. These instruments chop ingredients to the finest consistency and produce a different result from a mortar and pestle, which bruises and softens ingredients to a paste. Today, when I wish to make a spice paste (or any purée or paste which follows my mother’s precept), I choose the option that requires more patience, physical strength and stamina.

Recipes in this Chapter

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