What makes a cooking utensil essential? For a home cook, that can be as subjective as the type of foods they like to prepare and eat. Sure, a couple of skillets and a pot can take care of most of the sautéing and simmering, but it’s always worth taking inspiration from kitchens across the globe to finish filling out our cabinets and drawers. Every culture comes with its own set of beloved tools that are inextricable from the foods that define it. Here are a few indispensable utensils that complete the kitchens of four cooking experts.
A Space-Saving Rice Paper Dipping Bowl
The cookbook author and writer Andrea Nguyen swears by her Mr. Spring Roll — a generic name for a rice paper dipping bowl found in many Vietnamese homes. The attractive and inexpensive bowl is semicircular and narrow. To use it, you partially fill it with warm water before dunking rice paper in it.
“It’s a great way to save space on the table and your work surface,” said Ms. Nguyen, who lives in Santa Cruz, Calif. “It keeps the water pretty warm because there’s less surface area exposing the water to cooling and evaporations.”
The bowl includes a side caddy to store rice paper sheets. Ms. Nguyen admits she’s not a fan of rolling numerous spring rolls, and would rather let people have fun preparing them in their own style. She suggests setting out a couple of Mr. Spring Rolls on the table along with all of the fillings for a do-it-yourself dinner party.
A Closet’s Worth of Mortars and Pestles
Shayma Owaise Saadat’s collection of mortar and pestles are essential in her kitchen. “I have been collecting them for years and each one has a different use,” said Ms. Saadat, a Pakistani Afghan recipe developer and writer who lives in Toronto. She prefers using a large eight-inch granite mortar and pestle for a typical green Pakistani- and Afghan-style chutney, rather than a food processor. The green chiles, fresh cilantro and garlic break down easier against its abrasive surface.
“What I love most about it is that the oils from herbs and spices are preserved,” she said.
She also uses the granite mortar and pestle to finely grind dry spices like coriander seeds, cardamom and whole cumin for her Pakistani-style spice mix for curries. Ms. Saadat, who is of Persian heritage, has a dedicated brass mortar and pestle to finely grind saffron and a Japanese suribachi for crushing cardamom. “I need a closet just for the mortar pestles in my kitchen,” she said, laughing.
A Comal Worth Traveling With
Karla Tatiana Vasquez depends on her Salvadoran clay comal every day. The comal, a round griddle, is indispensable in a Salvi kitchen, said Ms. Vasquez, a cookbook author and writer. Made of volcanic clay, like Ms. Vasquez’s, or metal, traditional comals are found in kitchens throughout Central America and Mexico.
On a recent trip to El Salvador, Ms. Vasquez purchased a new clay comal and traveled back to her home in Los Angeles with it. “I had to wrap my precious comal very carefully in my clothes so I could have some kind of assurance that it would make it,” she said.
Ms. Vasquez uses her comal to prepare tortillas, grill vegetables, toast bread and to simply reheat foods like pancakes.
She says the comal’s ability to transform leftovers made lugging it around worth it.
“It gets things really crispy and brings life back into the food.”
Knives Like Grandma’s
For Rosetta Costantino, a cookbook author and culinary instructor specializing in Calabrian cuisine, nonna knives, or grandmother knives, have always been a part of her kitchen. The inexpensive and colorful serrated paring knives are adored in Italian, South Asian and Iranian kitchens, and beyond.
“Now you see chef’s knives everywhere in Italy,” Ms. Costantino said. “But 20 years ago, you couldn’t even find a chef’s knife to buy. Only the chefs had them, but all the home cooks, all they used was the nonna knife.”
Ms. Costantino, who lives in Oakland, Calif., brings back a pack of the knives whenever she visits Italy. They are lightweight and perfect for chopping, slicing and peeling just about anything, but especially fruit.
“They’re extremely sharp, and they magically never seem to get dull,” Ms. Costantino said.