What to do if you don’t have a mortar & pestle but want to create authentic Asian dishes? This is a question I get asked often by friends who love trying out new Asian dishes but for whatever reason haven’t gotten a mortar & pestle or are afraid of using it. As someone who has cooked in many different types of kitchens throughout my life, I have learned valuable lessons on how to creatively get by without many types of gadgets.
The workaround to not having a mortar & pestle is actually very simple. All you need is a sturdy brand of zip lock bags and one of the following- a meat pounder, a rolling pin, an empty wine bottle, an empty beer bottle or a small heavy pan. Even the sparsest of kitchens has one of the above and anyone can purchase a box of zip lock bags.
Wherever a recipe calls for using a mortar & pestle to grind or mash ingredients together, (typically to produce some type of paste), you can follow the recipe as is and use the zip lock bag and one of the heavy objects listed above. Simply place the ingredients in the bag, ensuring that the bag is properly, securely sealed, letting out any pockets of air and pound away. Do ensure that no pockets of air are left behind as that will cause the bag to explode when you begin pounding.
A meat pounder is certainly the ideal, though any of the listed objects above can work just as well. If using an empty bottle, make sure you have a firm grip on the bottle and use the bottom surface as a pounder. Do be careful not to get overzealous and cause the bottle to shatter. Lesson learned? You can always find a workaround and not let the absence of fancy gadgets deter you from creating an amazing, authentic dish.