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Here at Milk Street, we love crushing spices or herbs by hand to create more variation in texture and extract more flavor, and a mortar and pestle allow us to blend them more precisely. The molcajete is a traditional Mexican variation of a mortar and pestle for grinding dried chilies to use in salsas or for making perfect guacamole. It has a shallower, wider bowl than a typical mortar—about 6 inches in diameter—which helps for closer control and more surface area to break down tough textures, like the skins of guajillo or ancho chilies. Plus, the molcajete is made of coarse and incredibly durable volcanic stone that creates plenty of natural friction. Its accompanying pestle is called a tejolote; at 3 inches long, it's perfectly proportional to the shallow bowl of the molcajete. Our food editor, Matt Card, says this tool is worth owning for guacamole if nothing else—the texture it yields is the ideal balance of creamy and chunky. Try our recipe for Central Mexican Guacamole, picked up from Mexican cooking doyenne Diana Kennedy. Each molcajete comes in a one-of-a-kind, hand-woven and vibrantly colored basket made from palm leaves. It's meant to hold tortillas and has a lid to keep them warm, but we also like to use the basket to keep fruits and vegetables on the counter, such as tomatoes, onions or avocados for the guacamole you'll be making. It even makes an attractive container to store kitchen clutter—loose change, receipts and the like.
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