[ad hoc|(") ad-'häk: for the particular end or case at hand without consideration of wider application]
The most precious heirloom my mother gave me was a molcajete (mortar and pestle) that she brought in her suitcase from Mexico in 1945. A molcajete is a heavy three-legged bowl carved out of quarried volcanic rock. The word, molcajete is a corruption of the Nahuatl word, temolcaxitl. The pestle is a rounded three-dimensional trapezoidal rock and is ergonomically suited to the hand in order to facilitate a grinding action. Its Spanish name, tejolote, is also derived from the Aztec word texolotl.
Some of my earliest memories are of the muffled, bell-like sound of the tejolote grinding against the shallow bowl of the molcajete. The beans are bubbling, the rice is silently swelling, there is a freshly-made stack of flour tortillas wrapped in a crocheted-edged towel, and my mother is making just enough salsa for that meal. One tomato, one chile, one garlic clove and a few sprigs of cilantro -- served in the molcajete. How utterly simple!
Since most people in the United States do not have a molcajete,
it is perfectly legal to use a mini food processor. This recipe begs
for a perfectly ripe tomato -- the salsa looks so pretty when it is a
true red and not a pithy pink. If you don't have fresh cilantro on
hand, you can substitue a few smashed cumin seeds (5-6) which will make
it a more Northern Mexico salsa.
1 Medium ripe tomato
1 Medium serrano chile
1 Medium garlic clove
1 Tablespoon finely minced onion
2 Small sprigs of cilantro (leaves only)
In a small saucepan, bring the tomato and the chiles to a gentle boil and cook for about five minutes. The tomato should be halfway stewed on the outer edges and still firm on the inside. Drain. Peel the tomato and don't seed -- the seeds have flavor. Coarsley chop the chile.
If using a molcajete, grind the garlic, using a circular wrist-twisting motion. When that is ground, add the chopped chile and grind some more. Add a few grains of salt (and the cumin seeds, if using) , add the minced onion and then add the chopped tomato, still grinding. If using a mini food processor, follow the same steps and pulse lightly when you finally add the tomato. The salsa should be amalgamated with a few chunks of tomato here and there. Adjust the taste for salt and add a few leaves of cilantro, lightly bruising some of the leaves to release their essential oils.