Not every recipe here calls for the use of a mortar and pestle, but the instrument, in many ways, captures what I love about cooking: the tactility of the process, using your hands to crush, mold, stir, chop, and cajole raw ingredients into cooked deliciousness.
The mortar and pestle is an example of how ingredients can be transformed with your hands and with the most basic tools. The earliest mortar and pestle dates back 35,000 years! M&Ps are, and were, also used to make medicines. I also love that the M&P is culturally fluent, appearing in many different cuisines around the world – a fact that I try to capture in the blog. And, incidentally, even though you don’t need a mortar and pestle for most of the recipes I have included here, it is used to make some of my favorite foods: guacamole, chili pastes, such as sambal and sambar pastes in Thai, Indian, and Malaysian cooking, and pesto.
Some cooking principles:
For me, cooking is a way of reconnecting with your body, not just in the obvious fact of bringing nourishment to it, but also because cooking engages your body in a completely different way than my everyday life as an academic. I like working with my hands (there is something about the labor of cooking that is relaxing after a day at the computer), and I love creating food that satisfies and engages all my bodily senses. Standing over a mortar and pestle can also be the most incredible olfactory experience, as you blend different spices and textures together.
I am not a professional chef and there is so much more I want to learn about food and cooking. But this blog is an attempt to archive the food that I do cook on a daily basis – while also motivating me to keep trying new recipes and making mealtimes eventful. It has been created (and hopefully read) by someone who is passionate about food and interested in growing their own culinary repertoires.
The recipes here are limited in that they are either seafood based or completely vegetarian. I also have a particular bias for food from the “Third World” or the tropics—India, Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Morocco—to name just a few places/regions that may feature prominently. My attempt is to re-capture some of the flavors I have tasted through my travels, and bring them to my humble kitchen in Durham, North Carolina. I can’t promise exactly where we will go, but I promise that the recipes here will be quick to prepare, relatively easy to make, healthy, mostly vegetarian, and packed with bold flavors.
I am a cultural anthropologist who currently lives and works in Durham, North Carolina. I have had the privilege of living in a number of different countries while I was growing up. Having lived in the US for the last thirteen years, I am now officially a “non-resident Indian,” according to the bureaucratic powers that be. Cooking is how I unwind after a day of intensive reading, writing, and teaching at the university where I currently work.