Paneer: Indian Fresh Cheese

I’ve always enjoyed a good paneer dish whether it be in the form of mattar paneer (with peas) or palak paneer (paneer in a spinach based curry). Whenever I decide to cook up some indian fare, usually for a dinner party, paneer would definitely feature on the table and I would scramble to the nearest indian grocery store to  get a block of this fresh cheese.  1 kg block of paneer costs around AUD$14. So for my dinner party on Monday, I decided to experiment with my own paneer; just as well since the grocer ran out of paneer. I used a recipe from the ‘basics’ section of ‘a little taste of India’, a book I purchased many years ago which has become a trustworthy source of spice rich dishes.

It is a very simple process and requires only two ingredients, fresh milk and an acid component (either lemon juice or plain vinegar) although I did gawk at the amount of milk required to produce a 500g block. Basically paneer is the compressed curd resulting from hot milk mixed with acid which separates the solid curds from the liquid whey; the latter washed away and drained, leaving behind a firm white mass. It is a very simple process and the paneer was firm and has a slightly creamy flavour. When sugar and maida (finely milled wheat flour) is kneaded into the paneer, you have chenna, a sweetened indian cheese used in a variety of desserts; it can be kneaded into balls, then laced or drenched in a perfumed sugary syrup (cardamom-scented). But for my dinner party,  mattar paneer was on the menu, a simple dish of pan-fried paneer cubes in a dry tomato based sauce with garam masala, peas and lots of chopped fresh coriander. I’m glad my friend ate this with relish, considering she hates peas. YEY!! 😀 

PANEER

(adapted from ‘a little taste of india’)

 

3 litres (12 cups) milk
6 tablespoons strained lemon juice, or vinegar (I used lemon juice)

Makes 550g (1 lb 4 oz)

  1. To make paneer, pour the milk into a large, heavy-based saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring with a wooden spoon so the milk doesn’t stick to the base of the pan.
  2. Reduce the heat and stir in the lemon juice, then heat over low heat for a few more seconds before turning the heat off as large bits of curd start to form.
  3. Shake the pan slowly to allow the curds to form and release the yellow whey. If the curds are slow to form, put the pan over low heat again for a few seconds. This helps with the coagulation.
  4. Line a colander with muslin or cheesecloth so it overlaps the sides. (I don’t have either cloths so I used a very clean tea towel)
  5. Pour off the whey, gently collecting the curds in the colander. Carefully pull up the corners of the cheesecloth so it hangs like a bag, twist the cloth so the whey is released, then hold the ‘bag’ under running water to wash off the remaining whey, twisting some more to remove the excess liquid.
  6. Leave the bag to hang from your tap for several hours so the weight of the curds releases more liquid and the cheese compacts. To remove more liquid, press the bag under a heavy weight, such as a tray with some tinned food piled on top, for about 1 hour. This will form a firm block of paneer.
  7. When the block is firm enough to cut into cubes, the paneer is ready for use (I kept the cheese overnight in the fridge and that helped to firm it up even more) 

 MATTAR PANEER

(recipe modified from ‘a little taste of india’ book)
500 g paneer (just used the whole block of paneer from above)
4 tablespoons ghee
100 g (1 large) onion, finely chopped
400 g fresh or frozen peas
1 teaspoon sugar
8 cm piece of ginger, grated
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 – 3 green chillies, finely chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
1 spring onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
200 ml water
salt to taste

  1. Cut the paneer into 2 cm cubes. Heat the ghee in a heavy-based frying pan over medium heat and carefully fry the paneer until golden brown, preferably on all sides. Remove from pan.
  2. Fry the onion in the same ghee, until softened and lightly golden, add in the ginger and garlic and cook for a few more seconds.
  3. Add in the chopped tomatoes and cook, stirring every now and then until tomatoes have disintegrated into a thick mass. Add in the water and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the peas, chopped chillies, garam masala, turmeric and sugar; cook the peas for about 5 minutes; then stir through the paneer cubes.
  5. Season with salt, to taste.
  6. Turn off the heat and stir through the chopped coriander leaves, and spring onion.

forgot to take a photo of the dish; luckily my friend and dinner guest did 😉

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