I’ll open this blog with a cheesy Indian joke that I found online – the response is a well-known Punjabi wedding song…
What did the mutter (pea) say to the paneer (cheese)?
“Tu cheese badi hai mast mast!” (You’re a cool, calm thing) – loosely translated
Paneer (pronounced ‘pun-eeer’), is a mild, unsalted, white cheese made from full-fat milk (yes, no scrimping on the fat – we need the curd). Why is it so special? The big stars for paneer are that it’s versatile, absorbs flavours really well, and it’s quick and easy to cook. I’ve made paneer for a friend of mine who hates cheese, and he loved it for it’s subtle and understated flavour.
I certainly love paneer. Growing up, I remember my mum making it from scratch. She learnt from my dadima (her mother-in-law) and then passed on this simple recipe to me. When mum lived in the extended family, big gatherings were a weekly thing, and paneer was top on the vegetarian menu. My family always have a fridge full of milk cartons, and any excess gets used in paneer, kheer (rice pudding), or milky masala chai. Mum always says, “You never know who’s going to pop over, so best to be stocked up and prepared”.
I’m fortunate that fresh paneer is readily available at my local supermarkets (in cubes and block form), but I know that’s not the case for everyone! Although paneer is accessible for me, I love making it from scratch. There’s something quite magical about seeing it change from boiling milk, to curds, to a firm block of yummy paneer.
It was really difficult to pick a paneer dish for dadima’s cookbook, as each grandmother cooked it beautifully in her unique style. You’ll find lots of great paneer recipes online, highlighting the Indian regional variations of this dish. For our summer barbecues, my family and I cook marinated paneer on skewers (or on the big hot plate – tawa), with lots of colourful vegetables. As a weeknight meal, I stir paneer chunks into a masala base (see Indu’s chapter in dadima’s book for recipe) and serve it with boiled rice and daal, or a chicken dish. I sometimes add paneer to my ‘spicy kick quinoa’ recipe (see previous recipe blog here) and more recently, my beetpaneer starter (see photo below & dadima’s instagram/ facebook post). Some recipes may feature crumbled paneer (a sort of scrambled egg texture), grated paneer (in koftas) or paneer pakoras. I love using leftover paneer in toasted sandwiches or paranthas the day after!
You will need:
- A deep non-stick, heavy-based pan (in the photos I’ve used a deep stock pan)
- A muslin cloth (or a thin, clean tea towel)
- A colander
- Slotted spoon
- Some sort of weight (I’ve used a pan filled with water – one that will fit neatly in the colander)
This recipe makes around 850g of paneer, which is around 9-10 portions when served as part of a meal with other dishes.
- 10 pints of full-fat milk (adjust if you want to make less)
- Juice of around 3 large lemons. Note: If you don’t have fresh lemons, you can also use a few tablespoons of malt vinegar, lemon juice from a bottle, or fresh natural yogurt.
- Bring the milk to boil.
2. When the milk almost boils, add the lemon juice and lower the heat. You will find that it curdles almost immediately. Stir without scraping the bottom of the pan.
3. Use a slotted spoon to nudge the curdled paneer around the pan until it has separated from the whey (the liquid). Stir around the top section of the pan only, and do not scrape the bottom as you’ll pick up unwanted residue. You will know the paneer has fully curdled once the liquid in the pan runs clear, as in the photos below.
4. Once curdled, turn off the heat and leave to stand for around 10 minutes.
5. In the meantime, place your colander in the sink, and line it with the muslin cloth (or thin tea-towel).
6. Carefully (stay safe here) pour the pan of curds and whey through the colander, so that the curd gathers in the muslin cloth (you may find it easier to scoop the curds out first). Do not be alarmed by the remnants at the bottom of the pan.
7. Gather, and pull up the corners of the muslin. Create a tight bundle with no gaps and run some cold water over the bundle before squeezing.
8. Squeeze out excess water, as in the photo below. It should feel quite firm.
9. Place the paneer (in the muslin bundle), in the colander. Flatten it out a bit so that it covers the base like a block. Create a weight on top – my mum simply uses a saucepan and fills it with water. Leave it weighted for a good few hours to set nicely.
10. Refrigerate overnight ideally (or a few hours if you’re in a hurry). The firmer the paneer, the better it will retain its shape when cubing and cooking.
11. Remove the paneer from the muslin cloth, and cube it up to your preferred size. It should be nice and firm before you cut it.
Storage tips: If you want to prepare ahead, the fresh paneer will last around 2 days in the fridge before you cook it. I don’t keep it longer than this.
Freezing tip: I always do this after step 11. I cube it up before freezing into plastic containers. I have read a few websites where it states that freezing alters the texture of the paneer slightly. However, in my experience it’s always turned out fine. To be honest, I’ve become a bit like my mum – I’d much rather have some in the freezer and be prepared for those busy weeknights, or unexpected visitors.
I also freeze paneer once I’ve cooked it completely as a dish, and it’s cooled down (see photo below). The recipe below is in dadima’s book, Indu’s chapter.
Have lots of fun making your paneer dishes & feel free to share this blog on your page!
Photos by Dale Gent