The kitchen tool I really couldn't do without is a kruk, or Thai mortar and pestle. Its extra-deep ceramic base can hold a good five cups' worth of ingredients and is rough enough for easy grinding. I use the palm-wood pestle to grind and mix ginger, galangal, lemongrass, garlic, and papaya to make green papaya salad, and it's also handy for making pestos, spice rubs, tapenades, and vinaigrettes. A full-size kruk goes for as little as $25 online, and smaller versions cost even less—not bad, considering the years of nonstop use they'll get. —John Hanesworth, San Antonio, Texas

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