A good mortar and pestle are not only attractive additions to a kitchen, they can also change your relationship to spice grinding. Dorie Greenspan recently got a granite mortar and pestle, and she’s a happy convert:
At last, after so many years in the kitchen, I found a proper mortar and pestle and instantly became a mortar-and-pestle evangelist. I’ve also become someone who uses her food processor a lot less.
In my experience, it’s true that when it comes to mortar and pestles (or is it mortars and pestles?), size matters. A tiny little thing is not going to be a friend to your burgeoning chef’s elbow (the photo’s accompanying article is pretty good, though), but it may be easier to extract a small amount of spices from. Chowhounds have suggestions for mortar and pestle techniques, as well as ideas for what foods to prepare with them. The list is mouth-watering: pesto, sesame seeds for bulgogi, aioli, curry paste, spice rubs, and guacamole.
As a side note, it’s pretty hard to say “mortar and pestle” with a mouth full of drool.