India's cuisine is very vegetarian and vegan-friendly and those who are on a first-name basis with their local Indian restaurant have likely heard of paneer. This cheese is unaged which means it maintains its fresh, bouncy form and doesn't have a strong, potent taste like many others do. In India, this cheese is used in many dishes and is a common substitute for meat in things like curries. It's believed to have originated sometime during the 16th century in Southeast Asia but it's a huge part of Indian cuisine and has caught on quickly in other parts of the world.
Surprisingly, paneer cheese is made up of a total of only three ingredients, and the process to make it is incredibly simple. A cheesecloth, whole milk, and lemon juice are all it takes to create this Indian favorite. For those who are vegetarian, this cheese is a great alternative to meat and holds up very well in dishes that require a lengthy cooking time due to its high melting point. In terms of flavor, paneer is very mild with a hint of saltiness that only adds to this unripened, fresh cheese.
How To Make It At Home
A home cook doesn't need to be unbelievably ambitious in order to make paneer cheese. All that's needed is a cheesecloth, a colander, lemon, and some whole milk. The lemon acts as the acid which will curdle the milk, similar to the process in which buttermilk is made, but these curds don't taste sour - it's simply the separation of curds from the whey. To start, it's best to set up the colander in the sink and line it with cheesecloth so it's ready to use when the curds have fully separated.
Then, simply boil eight cups of whole milk in a pot on the stove, and to that, add about a fourth of a cup of lemon juice. After the juice is added, turn the heat down to low - the liquid left behind should have a greenish hue to it while the chunks at the top are the curds you're looking for. When this happens, it's time to make the paneer!
Empty the pot into the cheesecloth in the sink and then, once cooled, use the cheesecloth to squeeze out any excess moisture. An easy hack, according to Sukhi's, is to just tie the cheesecloth to the faucet of the sink to allow any additional liquid to drain out on its own. Once the curds have sufficiently dried out and aren't leaking any more liquid, the entire wrapped cheese ball can be placed in the fridge - just be sure to weigh it down with a heavy plate or pan so that it flattens out into that classic paneer shape. After about 20 minutes of fridge time, the cheese is ready to eat and cook with! It's truly a simple process that results in delicious cheese, and it can be stored in the fridge for several days of use in dinners, lunch, and even as a snack or for breakfast.
What It Can Be Used In
Indian cuisine calls for the use of paneer in many different things. Some of the most popular items on an Indian menu will look like this: Paneer Tikka Masala, Paneer Butter Masala, Kadai Paneer, Dum Paneer, Paneer Makhni Biryani, Paneer Bhurji, and even samosas. Due to the mild nature of paneer, it holds up well in dishes that are bold in flavor and have strongly flavored sauces, which is why it's particularly useful in Indian cuisine.
However, it's also fun to explore other avenues with this cheese and trying things such as pan-frying it or using it as a substitute in stews or soups. It can even be grilled and used on salads or kebabs, making it a cheese substitute similar to that of halloumi, or grilling cheese. If the paneer is sturdy enough to hold up to grilling, it's a great option for burgers as well, since the cheese can be flavored with burger spices and used on Meatless Mondays.
In things such as salads, the cheese can even be marinated (bear in mind that it only stays good in the fridge for up to three days, though) and broiled in order to achieve that crisp exterior with a tender, moist interior. Basically, anything that you would slow-cook or fry a piece of meat for, paneer would also work just as well in. It can even be eaten as a simple snack with some olive oil and za'atar seasoning!