Grinding, Crushing and Mixing

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The Japanese have a marvelous utensil they call a suribachi, which is used for crushing, grinding and blending foods. For tossing saladlike dishes, the suribachi is particularly useful, as the dressing is prepared and the food tossed in the same bowl. A suribachi is also wonderful for Western-style creaming of butter or shortening and sugar.

The bowls of most suribachi are ceramic, though some modern versions are made of tough plastic. The stick (called or surikogi in Japanese) is usually made of fragrant cedar wood. Often suribachi come with plastic or rubber grips on the base to prevent the bowl from sliding about. A damp towel or cloth placed between the suribachi and counter will do quite well, too. The friendliest arrangement is to have someone else hold the bowl while you grind with the stick.

With a bit of practice it’s a simple matter to grind a tasty sauce or dressing in a few minutes. Here’s how: Hold the stick with one hand cupped over the top, the other hand gripping the bottom. Press down firmly with the top hand while rotating the bottom of the stick in a circular motion. It’s a bit tiring at first, but you can alleviate fatigue by alternating left and right hands on top and bottom, and by alternating clockwise and counterclockwise strokes. To collect the contents of the suribachi at the bottom of the bowl, scrape the food down with a wooden spoon or spatula.

When all finished, fill the empty suribachi with warm sudsy water and let it soak for 5–10 minutes before washing out with a soft sponge. Rinse it well under fresh running water. Do not put a ceramic suribachi in a dishwasher. Turn the clean suribachi upside down, then towel it dry.

Although a blender or other food processor can crush and grind most foods, these machines are not very effective when it comes to the scant quantities called for in most Japanese recipes. You may have to double or even triple quantities to have sufficient volume to engage the blades of your machine. For a small amount an ordinary mortar and pestle will do the job.