Introduction: How to Make Fresh Paneer
Paneer is India's version of cottage or farmer's cheese. It is generally a bit more dense than other cottage cheeses. It is closer to Mexican queso blanco than Ethiopian ayib or Italian ricotta.
It is very simple to make, only requires two ingredients that you probably already have at home, and takes only a few minutes active and a few hours passive making time.
Once it is made you can cook it in a variety of dishes, or store it in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Step 1: Gather Your Tools and Ingredients.
- One large pot, preferably with a thick base. I am using an eight quart pressure cooker, without the lid.
- One medium to large colander.
- One piece of cheesecloth large enough to fully line the colander. I double it if the weave looks too loose. If you think normal cottage cheese would slip through the holes, double it. You can also use loose weave muslin.
- One long-handled wooden spoon or latex spatula.
One gallon of whole milk.
About six to eight tablespoons of lemon juice. You can use vinegar in a pinch, or so I am told. I have never tried it so I couldn't tell you if it would be the same amount as the lemon juice.
This recipe is very flexible. You can cut it in half easily, but I would still use at least four tablespoons of lemon juice for a half gallon of milk.
Step 2: Line a Colander With Cheese Cloth.
Do this before you begin, because once you put the milk over the high heat you will need to be ON that constantly until it is time to strain it.
You don't need to use clips, but I just found it helped, especially while I was taking photos and had to ask someone else to do the pouring.
Step 3: Boil Milk.
First find yourself a very large pot with a thick base that will distribute the heat evenly, preferably a stock pot. If the bottom is thin, consider some sort of diffuser. If you don't have one, buy one. They are cheap and you'll be glad you did. They even have them in the grocery store sometimes. Less than $10.
Pour in your milk and turn on the heat to medium/high.
Bring milk to boil over high heat stirring constantly, controlling the foam from boiling over.
Step 4: Curds and Whey.
Once it reaches a rolling foamy boil, reduce heat to a simmer and immediately pour in your lemon juice!
(or vinegar if you have no lemon juice)
Bottled juice is fine. Stir it up and watch the curds appear immediately. This will leave a yellow liquid (whey) surrounding the curds.
If the curds don't appear after a full minute, add another squirt or two of lemon juice and put the heat up to medium for about one minute. Turn heat off and stir.
Step 5: Strain.
CAREFULLY empty the pot into the lined colander (over the sink). Boiling water may splash out, so pour slowly and away from your face.
Step 6: Rinse the Whey From the Curds.
Run cold water over the cheese while still in the colander. Move the colander in a swirling motion to hit all the curds. Do this until it runs clear. This will take a minute or two.
Shake excess water from the curds.
Step 7: Wring Out Water, Creating a Ball.
Gently remove the four corners of the cheese cloth from the colander, lifting the pile of fresh paneer up and out. Twist out the excess water. You will create a ball this way.
Step 8: Hang the Cheese Ball to Drip-dry.
Find a safe place to hang the cheese cloth where it can drip for at least an hour, preferably two.
Tying it over your faucet is good, if you won't be needing the kitchen sink for a while.
Step 9: Compress the Loaf.
Put the cheese-filled cloth on a plate and flatten it with your hand, gantly shaping it how you would like it. Now weigh it down. A heavy iron skillet is my method, you may choose to use another plate piled up with tinned food, pickles, anything heavy.
Let it compress for about an hour like this at room temperature.
Step 10: Unwrap and Chill.
Once the cheese has flattened, unwrap and move it to the fridge, but maintain weight for a few more hours. Try a heavy pot of leftovers or a jug of milk if you are trying to conserve fridge space.
Chill overnight with more weight on it if you want it firm enough to slice without fear of total crumble-ization. Even if you do chill it, don't expect it not to crumble somewhat, since you are not using any stabilizer. This is just the nature of "cottage" style cheeses.
Step 11: Consume.
Hey, you just made your own homemade paneer, you little cheese monger, you!
Now cut it into 1 to 2 inch cubes and eat it plain, crumble and serve with fresh fruit as a light and healthy snack, smother with conserve or preserves as a less light and healthy dessert . Also try it crumbled in salads or added to soups as a creamy garnish at the end. It really is a versatile and easy to make cheese. Just don't use it where you want a stretchy melty cheese, it won't happen.
Most likely you will want to cook it up in your favorite traditional Indian paneer recipe. I suggest saag paneer, a spicy spinach dish, (recipe in next step).
Or you can try the recipe from this delicious looking instructable:
If you lightly brown the cubed paneer before adding to your curry it should hold up alright, just don't stir it much or it will fall apart.
Step 12: SAAG PANEER RECIPE
2 pounds fresh baby spinach, washed and stems trimmed
1/4 cup ghee (substitute olive oil and butter mixed if no ghee is available but I will include a "recipe" on the next step)
1/2 gallon batch (or 1/2 pound store-bought)cubed paneer cheese
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
6-8 garlic cloves, grated or minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (no need to peel before grating)
3-6 fresh green chilies (serranos work nicely) depending on how spicy you like it.
1/8 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (some like it hot)
1 teaspoon yellow curry powder
2 teaspoons garam masala powder (recipe for mine on upcoming step also)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup plain yogurt
First blanch about two pounds of fresh spinach (toss in boiling water for just one minute to wilt, but not so long it loses all flavor!).
Strain in colander, pressing all water out with a wooden or latex spoon or spatula. Don't worry about bruising or crushing now, you just want to get rid of as much water as possible. Sometimes I send it for a little spin in the salad spinner if I am not satisfied, or for the extremist, squeeze it in cheese cloth.
Pour 1/4 cup ghee (if you have it, if not you can use half olive oil, half butter) in a large skillet ove medium-high heat.
As soon as this is all melted and hot, add the cubed paneer and fry for a couple minutes until nicely browned all over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (1/2 teaspoon of each should suffice), remove from pan and set aside.
Using the same pan, now sautÃ© your chopped onions, garlic, and ginger for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly until the onions are translucent and floppy.
Add dry spices and another 1/2 teaspoon salt and keep stirring until everything is all incorporated. This should just take a few minutes.
Now gently add the spinach and mix it all up. Reduce heat to the lowest setting while you add the dairy. First stir in buttermilk and yoghurt to create a rich, creamy sauce before finally turning OFF the heat. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Give it one last stir before gently folding in the delicate fried paneer.
Serve with a mound of basmati rice or your favorite flat breads.
Offer chopped fresh cilantro and chilled plain yughurt as sides. Also a simple cold salad of sliced cucumber and tomatoes with nothing but lemon juice and salt makes a wonderful accompaniment to any spicy Indian dish, in my opinion.
Step 13: MAKE YOUR GHEE
1 pound unsalted butter will make about 1 1/2 cups ghee. Adjust as needed. There are no other ingredients.
Put the butter in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat and keep it moving by tilting and rotating the pot to ensure that it melts slowly and does scorch. Once it has melted, bring it to a boil.
Once the butter has separated and the top is all foam, stir gently and turn heat down to lowest setting. Gently simmer, uncovered without touching for about 45 minutes. Now the solids in the bottom of the pan should be golden brown and the the top will be clarified. Strain through a colander or sieve/strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth. The ghee should be perfectly clear with a golden color much like weak lager, and have a nutty aroma. Pour into a glass jar with a good tight seal. This can be stored in a cool dark place for months, since you have removed the solids which would otherwise turn rancid in normal butter. I refrigerate mine and suggest you do the same.
Step 14: Make Your Own GARAM MASALA
Just so you know, garam means hot, masala means spice. Many garam masala recipes are heavy on the savory-sweet spices such as cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon, where mine is a little less heavy handed on those.
The basic preparations will be very similar from one recipe to the next, while specific ingredients and proportions will vary from one family to another. You can come up with a base masala mix that works for your particular taste and then have separate jars of individual ingredients, allowing the modification as per the requirements of each dish. This prevents a monotony of flavor in all your Indian meals, but saves time since for most of us it is not always practical to be toasting and mixing all of the whole spices every day. Once you find a mix you like, and have some in your cupboard you can add the masala to meat or vegetables as a sort of marinade before you are ready to cook. Another tip while experimenting is to try new slow cooker recipes using garam masala. Allow your meat or vegetables to cook in some ghee or oil and masala mix under cover on slow heat for some time before adding additional water or cream etc. It makes for a truly aromatic and robust curry, when you have the time. In any case, the right masala mix can make your life a lot easier if you do a lot of Indian cooking.
Here is the variation I came up with this time and it was wonderful with the saag paneer recipe on the previous step.
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1 1/2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
6 dried red chilies, broken in pieces, seeds discarded (if you don't like it too hot, go for 3 red chiles)
Optional: 1/4 teaspoon asofoetida seeds (use sparingly, very stinky to some)
Optional: 1/4 teaspoon methi seeds or fenugreek
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (fresh ground if you have the patience, try a microplane)
1 rounded tablespoon ground turmeric
Put whole spices in a dry heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring until they turn several shades darker and give off a sweet smoky aroma, about 8 minutes. Shake the pan often to prevent them from burning. Do not raise the heat to quicken the process, or the spices will brown prematurely, leaving the insides undercooked.
Cool completely. Working in batches if necessary, transfer the mixture to a spice mill or clean coffee grinder and grind to a powder. Stir in the nutmeg, turmeric, cinnamon and any other previously ground spices.
Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark and dry place. Garam Masala can keep for up to 3 months if stored properly. I try to do small enough batches so that I never feel it is going stale.