Sunday, March 7, 2010

Discovering Egypt: Part 1

The simple and most basic of culinary or medicinal tools are the mortar and pestle. Evidence of their use, before the times of hunting and fishing, indicate that it’s quite possibly the oldest kitchen gadget known.
A mortar is a bowl-like receptacle that holds herbs, spices, grains, meats or other substances that need to be ground into powder or a paste. A pestle is the rod, rock or stick that is used to mash or grind the food into the bottom and sides of the mortar, until the ingredient is reduced to the desired texture. Although there are two individual pieces, the whole of them is commonly described as a singular item. The mortar and pestle has always been, and continues to be, used for both cooking and medicinal purposes. Due to the toxicity of some herbs, the same mortar and pestle that has been used for medicine is not used for cooking.
There are many different forms for the mortar and pestle, but the basic shapes and ideas do not differ. Evidence found in China, dating back to 3000 B.C; show that the simplest mortar was a depression in the earth. The ingredients to be ground were dropped into the earthen pit and the pestle could be operated by hand as well as by foot. The material the mortar and pestle is constructed of will also vary, depending on what is being processed. For medicinal purposes the pieces needed to be easily and thoroughly cleaned between each use. This led to the invention of the porcelain mortar and pestle. The mortar and pestle has also been molded, carved or dug out of everything from dirt and tree limbs to volcanic rock and marble.
In Egypt, the earliest mortar and pestle use occurred around 5000 BC and was used to grind grain into flour. Besides bread, the Egyptian cuisine consists of many spices, herbs and garlic that make the mortar and pestle an absolute essential in the Egyptian household. Because the natural aroma of the spice won’t burn off with only the minimal friction created by hand crushing, some chefs still prefer using the mortar and pestle to a food processor or grinder.
Since I’ve been researching Egypt, I’ve been experimenting with recipes that are representative of that cuisine. This recipe for Egyptian Spiced Prawns was a delicious blend of flavors, but not spicy hot. My toddler was even able to enjoy them. The cumin really stands out, but not overpoweringly. The original recipe was found at recipes4us in the UK but I made alterations to the ingredients to suit our tastes while still remaining true to the Egyptian cuisine. Serve with some hot rice and a green salad for a quick and easy dinner.

Egyptian Spiced Prawns

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ginger, fresh grated
1 1/2 lbs large shrimp, raw & shelled (Shrimp)
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped (cilantro)

Heat the oil in a large skillet; add the garlic and sauté gently for 2-3 minutes. Add the paprika, cumin and ginger; stir to combine. Stir in prawns, salt and cilantro. Stir-fry for 5 minutes or until the prawns turn pink. Serve over hot rice. Serves 4
Prep time: 5 minutes, Cook time: 10 minutes


  1. Great article Tink! I have a tiny (and I mean minuscule)old fashioned Dutch kitchen and hankered over a mortar and pestle for years, not getting one because there is simply no space for a regular sized one. Then I found a really small one, it fits in the palm of your hand more or less and it's FABULOUS! I use it a lot and love it to bits. I'm saving this recipe to add to the list of to-makes, if your kid likes it ok, then I hold out hope that mine might too. If not, more for Hubby and I :)

  2. Thanks, kiwi! It sounds like you have one the size of mine. It's pretty small & I'd like to have a bit bigger one, but it seems like this one does everything I need it to & it's easy to store. ;)

  3. I love this post;my mortar and pestle is always sitting on my counter; don't use it very much but your recipe has inspired me for when I return to my kitchen; thank you.


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TinksTreats by Lorilyn Tenney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License