A special favorite with North Indians, paneer cheese is used all over India to make delicious dishes ranging from curries to desserts. Eaten alone, it has a delicate milky flavor but readily takes on the flavor of the spices in which it is cooked. When used to make desserts it gives a rich and creamy flavor.
Paneer is made by curdling warmed milk with an acid like lemon juice or vinegar. The curds are then drained and pressed into a solid block. Paneer is a fresh cheese, like mozzarella or queso fresco, so it's ready to be used as soon as it's made and won't keep for more than a few days.
Because it's curdled with an acid instead of rennet, paneer doesn't melt when heated. Very fresh paneer that hasn't been pressed for very long tends to be more crumbly and is best for sauces. Very firm paneer can actually be sautéed, seared, or grilled, and still retain its shape and texture.
Besides simmering it in a curry, cubes of paneer go well in grain salads, wraps, and stir-frys. In the summer, grilled skewers of paneer and vegetables make a fantastic and easy weeknight dinner.
You can find paneer in specialty grocery stores and Indian markets however, it is quite easy and fun to make at home! Why not give it a try?
Indian Paneer Cheese
- 8 cups or ½ gallon whole milk (you can use low-fat milk too but in my opinion the taste isn’t as authentic and as all know my thoughts on low-fat products. Boo hiss!)
- ¼ cup organic lemon juice or ¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar (the lemon imparts a slight lemon taste to the cheese while the vinegar makes the cheese more tangy. So it is your personal choice).
- ½ tablespoon very finely sifted whole wheat pastry flour or cornstarch.
- ½ tablespoon finely ground sea salt.
- In a large non-reactive stock pot, bring the milk to a boil slowly, stirring very frequently to prevent scorching (you must boil the milk or the separating reaction will not occur as quickly or as completely).
- When the milk just begins to foam and boil, slowly stir in either the lemon juice or vinegar by drizzling it into the pot in a very thin stream. Continue to stir and you will notice the curds start to separate from the whey.
- Turn the heat under the pot off and stir for about a minute then cover and leave on the burner to settle for another 5 minutes.
- Set up a colander or strainer over a large bowl and line the colander with a linen cloth. You want the weave to be tight so the curds do not come through, but you do not want them to be too tight, or it will take ages for the whey to drain out.
- Pour the curds and whey into the colander and through the cotton material carefully as the liquid will still be very hot. Pull the ends of the cloth together and tie the two opposite sides loosely together and then suspend by a wooden spoon over a tall container like a pitcher. Allow the curds to drain. This will take an hour or longer, depending on the weave of your cloth. If you are still getting drips a few hours later, you might want to twist the cloth to squeeze out any remaining liquid if your fabric weave is very tight.
- When the curds are mostly dry, open the cloth onto a plate, but keep the cloth under the curds. Spread the curds out with your fingers and then thoroughly sprinkle with the salt and the finely powdered flour or cornstarch. Knead the flour and salt through all the curds, pressing down on them to combine well. This step helps the paneer to be more firm and easier to handle when cooking.
- Shape the curds into a rectangle or square about an inch and a half or less thick and a few inches wide.
- Fold over the original cloth and then place between two heavy plates or a heavy pot/pan and put a weight over the top. Put in the refrigerator for a few hours to overnight.
The cheese will resemble tofu and can be easily cut into pieces. It should be used right away, but if you have to you can store it briefly in water in the fridge just like tofu. Remember to pat it dry on paper towels before use, or it will not hold together well.