29 Apr 2009

How to make paneer

Milk, yoghurt and paneer are essential dairy ingredients in the widespread vegetarian Indian diet, providing a daily dose of protein and calcium. It also partially explains why the cows are so sacred here and are free to roam the streets of cities and villages all over the country.

I have enjoyed Saag Paneer (Indian cheese with Greens) many times at my favourite Indian Restaurant however I have experienced a whole new level of cow devotion on discovering the real Indian paneer. Paneer Tikka (cooked in the tandoor ovens on skewers), Paneer Korma, Muttar Paneer and Palak Paneer are just some of my best foodie discoveries in the restaurants here. But I was desperate to make these dishes at home but I hadn’t yet seen it in the shops.

Another developing Indian food obsession is Mithai – Indian Sweets. Many of these sweeties are also milk based (another reason for the holy cow maybe) and so sweet that some are even too much for my saccharine tooth. Heaven too for a gluten free girl, but more on that another time...

But, whilst browsing my local sweet shop something new to take home, I discovered that this was the place to buy paneer. Logical? No – but a great find - I was now able to create some of my most favourite dishes.

The cheese itself just needs heating in the sauce, so lends itself to quick cook suppers, especially Paneer Korma which is nothing like the British version of the sauce. However, buying this everyday (like most things here...) was turning into a bit of a cheese chore so I researched a rumour online that it was easy to make.

Luckily, after one passable attempt from an online recipe, I started my regular cooking class with Amita, and paneer was our first recipe. Making the paneer in class, I could see how cheese makers become so passionate about their craft. It really is a magic and utterly satisfying process resulting in a simple yet versatile product... and this one you can very easily and quickly make at home.

So I encourage you, if you haven’t made paneer before to give it a try – especially if you live in a place where it’s difficult to buy. It’s a quintessential Indian ingredient – and how cool is it to say “I made cheese today”....?

Home Made Paneer (Indian Cheese)
1 litre of whole milk
Souring agent (4 tbsp lemon juice / vinegar or ½ to 1 cup of plain yoghurt)
Flavourings (optional – fresh coriander, cumin seeds for example)
Gently heat the milk in a heavy based saucepan stirring occasionally to prevent a skin forming
To ensure the flavourings get incorporated into the paneer, mix them into the yoghurt
Mix a little of the warm milk with the cool yoghurt to bring the temperatures closer
Just before the milk boils, add the yoghurt to the milk and stir gently. Don’t mix it too much as this will break down the curds and you want them to come together naturally
The milk will begin to separate into curds and whey – if you do not eventually get a clear-ish whey, add more souring agent
Once the whey has turned milky white remove the pan from the heat (you do not want to boil the curd as this produces a harder cheese)
Drape muslin large enough to hold the cheese and be tied, over a bowl big enough to take the liquid
Pour the curds and whey into the cloth and gently strain
Tie the cloth, and place the paneer in a straight sided dish with the knot to the side so that the paneer presses flat.
Place the bowl with the whey on top of the paneer as a weight to press the cheese.
Leave to press for about an hour, or longer if you want a much firmer cheese.
Store for up to 3 days submerged in water to prevent the cheese from drying out.
SAVE WASTE - Use the leftover whey to make dal or roti as it is very rich in nutrients, with a natural sweetness.

1 comment:

Sophie Christophy said...

Kim - ate at your favourite Indian in East Dulwich on the weekend, thanks to your recommendation, and it was absolutely DELICIOUS!! We over ordered, so got a doggy-bag to take home too! Thanks for the hint, we are hooked. Sophie