Food, Recipes

Adventures in cheese: paneer

Sliced paneer with honey

Paneer with honey – delicate as custard

I made delicious Indian cheese this weekend, spurred into action by the glorious national institution that is Radio New Zealand.

The wonderful Wendy Adams, she of Cultured Petone fame, was on the wireless on Saturday afternoon, talking Simon Morton and This Way Up listeners through the process of making paneer.

So simple! So quick! Dear readers, I was inspired. I was down that supermarket buying milk quicker’n a kea alighting on a hapless tourist’s backpack.

And you know what? It was even easier than it sounded, and at least ten times as scrumptious as I expected – delicate and lemony with more in common than a wobbly custard than rubbery tofu. Just… yum.

So I urge you, try it, try it today. Then use it to make saag paneer.

You won’t regret it.

I used the paneer recipe on the RNZ website, adding more lemon juice to make it extra lemony. I’ll rewrite it here, step by step. Before you start, you’ll want to gather a few things together – the ingredients, obviously, but also a double boiler, a colander and a bowl to fit inside it, a sieve, clean damp muslin – I used a ham cloth, but you could even use a (clean!) chux. That’s about it.

Paneer ingredients

2 litres milk (not trim)
4 teaspoons or more of lemon juice

Make your paneer

Heating the milk in a double boiler

And so it begins… bring the milk to a rolling boil over a double boiler (to avoid it sticking to the bottom of the pot)

juicing lemons

Easy peasy lemon squeezy – I used the juice of two lemons

separating the curds and whey

Add the lemon juice, stir and watch clumps form as the whey is expelled from the milk, leaving the hot solids to form into a mass (and try not to think about what this looks like – it will get prettier)

using a sieve to strain the whey from the curds

Drain (use the whey for bread, cooking rice, on the garden)

Cheese wrapped in muslin

Place the ‘curds’ into a sanitised cheesecloth/muslin in a colander

Pressing the cheese using a bowl of water as a weight

Place a bowl of water on top, press for an hour or so – less means fluffier paneer, more means firmer

The finished cheese

Et voila!

I was so excited I could only wait an hour. Stole the first slice to drizzle with honey and eat with my fingers.

Diced up the rest and fried it in ghee until it was golden, before adding it to a gently spiced, creamy spinach sauce. On the show they called this palak paneer, but I know it as saag. Either way, it was amazing. And I’ll be back listening to This Way Up again this coming Saturday, for more adventures in cheese!

If you missed it, you can listen to the show by downloading the audio file from RNZ to your iPod or other magical mobile listening machine).

Saag paneer with rice and naan bread

The finished dish: saag paneer

Saag paneer

250g paneer, cubed
Ghee for frying
bunch fresh spinach leaves (I had a 130g bag of leaves)
1 small cinnamon stick
1 thumb fresh ginger, peeled
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chillies (or fresh, eh, but this was what I had to hand)
2 large tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
Half a cup of sour cream
Salt to taste

Fry the cubed paneer in a tablespoon of ghee until light golden brown and set aside.

Blanch the spinach in boiling water, along with the cinnamon stick.

Remove the cinnamon stick, drain and puree the spinach, along with the fresh ginger and tomatoes.

Heat 1 tablespoon ghee in a heavy pan and fry the onions over a medium heat. When they’re a deep, burnished gold, add the chopped garlic and the spice powders and fry for another minute.

Add the pureed spinach mixture and cook for four minutes.

Add the sour cream and cubed paneer and cook for a minute longer. Taste for salt.

This did me for one dinner and two packed lunches (frozen along with half a cup of cooked basmati in each container). I guess you could easily stretch it by adding more spinach or tomato to make a saucier sauce.

Empty plate and fork, smeared with spinach

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