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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Mortar and Pestle


A mortar and pestle are a necessity in any Greek kitchen.  We have three as you can see.


The big wooden mortar is used to grind up walnuts or almonds and occasionally when our traditional person wants to mimic his mother he will make the garlic sauce or taramasalata in this bigger receptacle.  In m-in-law's time there were no little electric hand mixers and anything that had to be mashed or pureed was pounded in a big wooden mortar, twice the size of this.

Slowly the wood matured, took on an oily sheen and a bouquet of garlic and salty fishiness.  The metal mortar is ideal for crushing the tiny end pieces of nutmeg instead of shredding your fingers on a grater.   I also pound machlepi and mastiha for the sweet loaves of bread at Easter and the memorial loaf.

Raw rice can be ground in them to clean out the surface and remove any tang left behind but that would remove the characteristic piquancy and je ne sais quoi of that big old wooden mortar

Machlepi  - 



Machlepi is an aromatic spice found all over the Middle East,  made from the ground up kernel of a certain type of cherry.  The flavour is described as being similar to marzipan.  I guess I would agree with that.  I use it in the New Year and easter cake.  It does come in powder form but for a stronger taste we buy small packets of the kernels and pound them into powder ourselves.

Mastiha -


Sun dried pieces of  resin from the mastic tree.  The resin has a slightly piney/cedar flavour.  Chios, an island in the Sporades group very close to Turkey, is known for its fine mastiha.  Greeks have always used it as a flavouring in breads and cakes and mastiha liqueur is de rigeur at any funeral or memorial service.  At 11 oclock in the morning a couple of shots of this liqueur can be quite lethal.


Mastic or mastiha as it is known here has always been used in medicine.  Hippocrates used it for digestive problems and colds.  Now it has become a superfood.  We could always buy mastic chewing gum but now we can buy mastic flavoured water at a high price and Mastic Shops have sprung up in Athens.


A tear drop of mastic resin ready to be collected from the mastic tree

















11 comments:

  1. Here we call the bubble gum "mastic". And the machlepi is "mahleb",but we rarely use it.

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  2. Mahleb/machlepi. Very similar words. It is probably used all around the middle East . We use it mainly at Xmas and easter

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  3. I would love some recipes using mahleb/machlepi. I have some, but it is very hard to find recipes to use it in. Thanks in advance!

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    1. Hi. I use it mainly in our tsoureki, which is difficult sweet bread. Mine usually comes out a little heavy.
      Also the new year's cake with the coin and the sweet bread I sometimes make for a church fiesta.
      I'll get some recipes on the blog soon.

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    2. Mastic and machlepi usually go together. But using just one will give you a great taste.

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  4. I have a nice big Spanish ceramic P & M (yellow with splashes of green). I don't think I've ever used it, but it's been following me around for the past 40 years.

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    1. Not much use for a mortar and pestle in the modern world of mixers but they do make for nice decor!

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  5. I have a green granit mortar and pestle. But I haven’t used it in years
    I just don’t cook like I used too!
    But it is pretty lol

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    1. Exactly! Green granite would look very chic on a shelf

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  6. I absolutely love the smell of spices especially ones like basil, thyme and rosemary, I guess with my middle eastern/armenian/portuguese ancestry it would be about right.

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    1. You're truly a woman of the world lol.
      We use loads of basil in the summer now but it used to be only for decoration in a pot in the yard.
      You would certainly know the two spices mentioned above!

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