While I was putting together the recent post about mortars and pestles, I came across Maria Robledo’s beautiful image of one of my favorite mortar-made sauces. I learned the deceptively simple recipe from chef Grey Kunz years ago and it has been enduringly great: an example of the magic of a few well-chosen ingredients artfully combined by a talented chef. Full-fat yogurt provides the base for an unusual combination of flavors: cumin, coriander, cardamom in league with fresh basil, lime and jalapeno, all crushed in a mortar. Its effect is far more than the sum of its parts. 

This sauce is wonderful on fresh and cooked vegetables and grilled seafood; spectacular with roasted, poached or smoked salmon; and a great, cooling “raita-like” foil alongside fiery dishes from Indian to Southern barbecue . It makes a lovely dessert when served on ripe honeydew or Persian melon.

The extreme acidity and lack-of-body in nonfat and many low-fat yogurts will undermine the sauce. I use a whole milk yogurt, preferably sheep’s milk which is extremely creamy and luxurious. (A 1/4-cup serving will max out at a slim 40 calories.) To duplicate whole milk yogurt in a pinch, mix equal parts low-fat yogurt and or full-or-reduced fat sour cream.

Recipe: Yogurt Sauce with Toasted Spices, Lime Peel and Basil

Although you don’t have to make this sauce in a mortar, it is more delicious, and makes for a lovely presentation if you do.

The sauce is best eaten the day it is made, although it will keep 2 days refrigerated, with a slight fading of flavor.

Makes 1 cup

Scant 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 coriander seeds
Seeds from 1 cardamom pod
1 cup whole milk yogurt or sheep’s milk yogurt
8 basil leaves, finely chopped
1/2 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon finely grated lime peel
1/8 teaspoon sugar
Pinch salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small skillet, toast the cumin, coriander and cardamom seeds over moderate heat until you can smell their fragrance. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a mortar, grind the toasted spices with a pestle to a fine powder. (Alternatively, you can do this in a spice grinder or blender). Remove and set aside in a small bowl.

Add the yogurt to the mortar. Stir in the basil, minced chile pepper, lime peel, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of the spice powder, working the pestle to press the ingredients against the side of the mortar. Stir in salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate 1/2 hour before serving to let the flavors marry.



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One thought on “Yogurt Sauce with Toasted Spices, Lime Peel and Basil

  1. That sounds fantastic! Thank you for sharing this. It will be perfect for the unexpectedly hot weather we are having this weekend.

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