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


Super, superb, supreme

Nigel Slater’s rich root & cheese soup, from Tender


I can’t heap enough superlatives upon this soup. It’s complex yet completely comforting, with the most incredible rounded taste that makes sense of the term ‘mouth-filling’, and a silken texture punctuated by the gentle pop of mustard seeds.


A party in your mouth? You betcha. Caramelising the parsnips with the onions enhances their sweetness, while the turmeric intensifies their earthiness. Cream and cheese dial up the comfort factor. So far, so mellow.


So you’d think. But there’s a hefty hit of chili to stop any slide into banality, and then a final addition of mustard to smack it around a bit more – sweet, hot, and a hint of sour.


Vegetable broth with potatoes and cavalo nero

Food, Recipes

Broadly speaking

Chianti was the tipple that most infamous of gourmets sipped on to bring out the best in his favourite dish of fava beans served alongside a human liver.

However, you do not need go to Hannibal Lecter extremes to enjoy one of the world’s great gastronomic treasures – the first of the season’s broad beans. A trip to the deli should suffice.

Once there, you should ask for a robust and spicy salami, a wedge of sharp, salty tangy cheese (pecorino, perhaps), an honest loaf of crusty bread and whatever gutsy quaffer tickles your fancy. If you want to go all out you could add some piquant olives and a tiny bottle of that very expensive and very delicious extra virgin oil you’ve had your eye on. This simple and exquisite antipasto is a perfect excuse for it.

Seize the moment (and try not to flinch as you hand over the plastic).

Pour the oil into a jug, the vino into large glasses, and set the remaining goodies out on a platter heaped with fresh young broad beans still nestling inside their velvety pods. Invite the assembled company to dig in. (You will, of course, have chosen your guests for their conviviality, just as you have handpicked the beans, selecting only the smallest and crispest of pods.)

The results, I promise you, will be toothsome, and unlikely to bring you to the attention of the FBI.

It’s a great cheat too – you need not be a good cook, only a good shopper. You don’t even have to shell the beans for goodness’ sake. What could be easier? Just sit back and accept the compliments as they roll in.


For very special occasions, make this Broad Bean and Pecorino Salad and serve it with crusty bread as a vibrant palate-teaser for six people.

1kg fresh unshelled broad beans
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano (I know, but it works, trust me)
3 tablespoons fresh parsley
quarter teaspoon chilli flakes
250g soft sheep’s milk cheese, cut in cubes the size of a broad bean
salt and pepper to taste

Shell the beans, combine with all the remaining ingredients and toss to blend.

Food, Recipes

Queen of pickles


The Swedish members of my family know me by the name Miss Gherkin, owing to my fondness for said preserve.

This weekend I felt I had truly earned the moniker, when I bagged first prize in the pickle category at this year’s Lambeth Country Show. (Placed third for my embroidery too, but that’s another blog.)

The annual event is pretty much your usual agricultural/horticultural/community show, but with added spice, given its London location. So there’s sheep shearing, jousting and falconry displays, all mixed up with African drums and goat curry. Plus funfair rides, fudge and scrumpy, stalls selling tat and those exhorting you to join your local library. It’s all very neighbourly.

And, of course, there’s the horticultural show bit, where members of the public bring in their homegrown, homemade stuff to be judged.

I had a hard time determining what to enter, cos I do a lot of preserving. Annabel Langbein’s spicy Indian-style tomato pickle won out, partly because I’d grown the tomatoes myself, and also as a nod to multicultural Brixton. Turned out to be a good choice, seeing as it won over the judges too.

Verily I say unto you, I *am* a domestic goddess. The judges have spoken.

Anyway, here ’tis, the prizewinning pickle, tomato kasundi.

225g green ginger, peeled
100g garlic cloves, peeled
50g green chillies, sliced in half lengthwise and seeds removed
2.5 cups malt vinegar
1 cup peanut oil
2 tablespoons turmeric
5 tablespoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons chilli powder
5 tablespoons mustard seeds, ground to a powder
2kg tomatoes, washed and chopped
2 and a quarter cups sugar
1.5 tablespoons Maldon salt

Puree the ginger, garlic and chillies with a little of the vinegar to make a paste.

Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add all the ground spices and fry until fragrant.

Add the pureed paste, tomatoes, the rest of the vinegar, sugar and half of the salt (check near the end of cooking to see if more is required).

Cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the oil floats on the top (about half an hour).

Ladle into sterilised jars while hot with a thin film of hot oil on the top of each jar, to stop the top from drying out, and cover with screw-top lids.

Leave for a couple of weeks to allow the flavours to develop before using. Stored in a cool place, kasundi will keep indefinitely.

Makes about 2 litres.

Food, Recipes

Frugal food to warm your cockles


I had plans to laze about in the garden all day, doing nothing more strenuous than reading the paper from cover to cover. But the rain rather put a dampener on that.

Nothing for it then except to brew up a pot of spiced lentils. There’s something infinitely cheering about these, not least that they manage to pack so much flavour into every mouthful for so little dosh. And they taste sublime.

I’ve been practically living off these for the past few months and I haven’t got sick of them yet. This is my version of a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi, tweaked to make it even cheaper.

It makes four portions and is a great freezer standby. It’s good to know there’s something hearty and healthy to bung in the microwave if you’re feeling too knackered to cook – or too hungry to wait more than 10 minutes.

Equally good spooned up in its simple soupy glory or pepping up a bowl of brown rice.

200g split red lentils
1 bunch fresh coriander

1 small onion, peeled

40g ginger, peeled

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1 green chilli

1½ teaspoons mustard seeds

4 tablespoons peanut oil

1½ teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon paprika

1 tin chopped tomatoes
70g butter
juice of 1 lime

Wash the lentils in plenty of water, drain and soak in 350ml of fresh water for 30 minutes, while you get on with the spice paste.

Cut the coriander bunch somewhere around its centre to get a leafy top half and a stem/root bottom half. Roughly chop the leaves. Put the stem half in the bowl of a food processor, add the onion, ginger, garlic and chilli – all roughly broken – and pulse a few times to chop up without turning into a paste.

Put the mustard seeds in a heavy-based pot and place over medium heat. When they begin to pop, add the onion mix and peanut oil, stir and cook on low heat for 10 minutes.Add the spices and continue cooking and stirring for five minutes longer.

Now add the lentils and their soaking water, the tomatoes, and a pinch of salt. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are fully cooked.

To finish, stir in the butter, lime juice and chopped coriander leaves, taste and season generously with salt.

Food, Recipes

Mother’s little helper


This ginger, shallot and chilli sauce is another great fridge staple, from a book called Chow Down and Chill Out by NZ food writer Jennifer Yee. It makes pretty much anything taste Asian in an instant.

I use it to make the omelettes below (from the same book) and as a base for stir-fries. She also suggests using it as a base for marinades. Mighty useful to have on standby then if you’re getting fired up for the barbecue season.

1/2 cup peanut oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3/4 cup finely chopped ginger
4 red chillies, seeded and sliced
2 teaspoons salt

Heat the oils in a small saucepan until hot. Add the ginger, shallots, chilli and salt, reduce the heat and cook until the shallots are translucent. Do not brown. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before packing into a clean jar. It’ll keep sealed and refrigerated for up to three months.

Makes 1 cup.



Asian-style baby omelettes

This is what I’m talking about. Solo dining in a flash. The recipe makes three of the frittery little critters, just right for one person, with some Chinese greens on the side.

2 fresh eggs
2 tablespoons ginger, shallot and chilli sauce (see the previous post)
1 teaspoon peanut oil or olive oil
1/2 cup chopped chives

Whisk together the eggs and ginger, shallot and chilli sauce.

Heat the oil and toss the chives in it until just wilted. Pour in the egg mixture and tilt the pan to coat. Lift the edges of the omelette as it cooks to allow uncooked the egg to seep underneath.

When it’s just beginning to set, use a spatula to divide the mixture into three smaller omelettes or wedges and flip over to cook the other side.


chive and coriander fried rice
ingreds for one person:
1 teaspoon peanut oil

1 tablespoon ginger, shallot and chilli sauce
1 1/2 cups cold cooked rice
1/4 cup chopped chives
1 teaspoon light soya sauce
1 egg
1/4 cup coarsely chopped coriander

Heat the oil in a wok until hot. Add your dose of mother’s little helper(aka the ginger, shallot and chilli sauce), rice and chives. Toss to mix and stir fry until it’s good and hot all the way through.

Sprinkle the soya sauce over and stir it in. Push the rice to the sides of the pan, making a well in the centre. Break in the egg and stir to slightly blend the white with the yolk.

Fold through the rice mixture and toss until the egg is just cooked. Mix the coriander through and serve in a large deep bowl.