by Patrick Reinartz
Paneer, if you don’t know, is a mild fresh cheese used in a lot of Indian cooking. It’s similar in appearance and texture to Halloumi, if you’ve ever had the pleasure. The two cheeses also share another noteworthy trait, which is that you can fry or grill them without melting right away. Instead, they form a beautiful brown crust, which adds a world of textures and flavours to dishes. Meanwhile, the inside gets a bit soft, like you would expect of a heated cheese.
And the best part? Making it yourself is extremely easy. In terms of ingredients, all you need is:
- 1L milk
- lemon juice or vinegar
That will make a disc of cheese large enough for 3 or 4 people at a single meal. If you want more, just use more milk. I would guess that regular whole milk (3.25%) is probably ideal, but I’ve had success with other kinds as well. For this most recent attempt I only had lactose-free 1% milk on hand. I wouldn’t recommend this, but surprisingly it didn’t seem to affect the results in any significant way.
- Ready a strainer with a few layers of cheese cloth.
- Heat the milk to a boil.
- Add 1-2 tsp of the vinegar or lemon juice and stir. Lime juice also works fine. The milk will separate into two basic components: the solid curds, and the liquid whey. This happens quite fast, so if you don’t see the milk separate within a few seconds, you may need to add more acid or make sure it’s hot enough.
- Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes.
- Strain the curdled milk, catching the curds in the strainer/cheese cloth. I’ve been told that the whey could also have useful applications, but I’m not familiar with any yet. If you know what to do with it, feel free to save it.
- Fold the cheesecloth over the strained curds and press it with your hands to get the bulk of the liquid out. Then unfold and rewrap into a neat, tight package.
- Place the cheesecloth bundle on a flat surface and pile some heavy stuff on top of it. I topped it with a second plate, and then a big stack of books. Let it press like this for another couple of hours to press the remaining liquid out of the cheese.
- When you are ready to begin cooking your dish, remove the weights and unwrap the cheese. You should have a firm, white disc of Paneer.
That’s really all there is to it. I cut mine into cubes and then fry it in a bit of olive oil before adding it to curries. Common uses are Matter Paneer (peas with Paneer) and Palak Paneer (spinach with Paneer), but I’m sure you can find lots of other applications as well. It’s also a great addition to a salad. Enjoy!