Paneer is nearly everyone’s favourite Indian dish, but even better when it’s home made! It is much easier to make than you think. All you need is a pan, sieve, a big bottle of milk and some muslin or cheese cloth.
It is similar to cottage cheese which was originally made from sour milk. The natural fermentation increases the acidity in milk and when heated this causes the milk to separate. That is why old milk curdles as we put it into our nice cup of tea, spoiling our treat. You could of course look on the bright side and turn it into tea-flavoured paneer!
Before refrigeration milk often went sour in hot weather, so the best thing to do was make it into cottage cheese, separating into curds and whey.
It is mentioned in an English nursery rhyme ‘Little Miss Muffet’. The tuffet is an old fashioned word for small stool or chair. The curds and whey are the cottage cheese, which she could have made into paneer if the spider had not intervened.
Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.
In this recipe we use lemon juice to create the acidity.
Two litres of milk makes about 250g of paneer. The liquid that is left is called whey which is still quite nutritious. It is a shame to waste it as it can be used as a base for a soup or a stew.
To make the paneer, first of all heat the 2 litres of milk in a pan. Use a heavy pan and make sure it doesn’t stick and burn at the bottom. Although ‘a watched pot never boils’ as soon as you turn your back it will! While you are waiting squeeze a whole lemon in a juicer.
Once the milk has boiled, remove it from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes so that it is still hot but not boiling. Then slowly pour in the lemon juice.
Add enough juice so the milk start to curdle and separate. Make sure it separates fully leaving a distinct clear liquid and separate milk solids.
Allow it to stand for a few minutes so it separates fully and is a bit cooler and safer to handle. Then stain it through a metal sieve covered in muslin or cheese cloth to catch the curds.
Pour the whey and curds through the muslin covered sieve.
Pour through the sieve until all the curds are separated.
Strain and allow to drain. Then wrap the muslin around the curds and squeeze out the excess water.
Now press the paneer to remove the excess water. I used two of our best plates which got me into trouble. Apparently using metal trays would be much more sensible.
Once it has been pressed it should become solid. At this stage unwrap the paneer. Chop the paneer into dice.
Normally the paneer is lightly fried in a little bit of ghee. Carefully turn it so it is beautifully golden on all sides. It can then be drained and it is ready to add to your favourite dish. Mine is Palak Paneer which has a spicy spinach-based sauce.
For a hands on experience come and join us on our Ayurvedic Cooking Weekend in March.