Thursday, August 26, 2004

a tale of two paneers

i love paneer. the first time i tried it was actually in one of those vacuum-sealed foil meals by tasty bite called kashmir spinach. i adored it. the spinach was good, but i couldn't get enough of those milky, cheesy chunks. since then at various restaurants, i've had paneer that was very good, and some surprisingly bad. i thought it was time to try my hand at making my own paneer. i used the recipe from julie sahni's classic indian cooking. there are only two ingredients, and the process is simple, but it takes some time, and requires planning ahead.


bringing milk to a boil

in a large pot over med-high heat, bring 8 cups of whole milk just to a boil. scrape the bottom of the pot occasionally so it doesn't scorch. i actually doubled the recipe because i planned on making two paneer dishes. when ready, lower to med-low heat, and add 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice. other starters may be used, like 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar, or 8 ounces plain yogurt, but the author recommends the lemon juice because it produces softer curds. stir gently until white curds form and separate from the whey.


milk curdling

it should only take 10 seconds or so. then stoke slowly for 30 seconds. you don't want to break up the curds too much. in the sink, pour into a colander that is lined with 4 layers of cheesecloth.


draining

rinse under a medium stream of cold water for a few seconds to get rid of the lemon juice and scum. take the corners of the cheesecloth and tie them together. gently twist to squeeze out as much water as possible, then hang the cheese to drain for 90 minutes. i hung my cheesecloth from a wooden spoon over the sink.


more draining

after draining, place the cheese (still in the cheesecloth) on a flat surface. place a heavy weight on top of it to compress cheese. i used my le creuset dutch oven. the only problem i found was that it would occasionally tilt, and i'd have to re-adjust. no biggie, though. just don't fill the pot with water. keep weighted for 30 minutes.

remove cheese, and slice into cubes. it was difficult to cut neatly because the edges of cheese weren't compacted as firmly as in the center. it's now ready to use in whatever recipe you'd like to use. most recipes i've seen call for the paneer to be lightly fried on most sides.


cutting the cheese

i used my cheese in saag paneer (spinach), and matar paneer (green peas in tomato sauce). we ate them with fresh naan.


two paneers

both were very good, but even better the next day. also, the cheese softened up a bit the next day. on the first day, it seemed a little dry and firm. i may have added a little too much lemon juice to the milk.

i really had fun making the paneer. when i cut into the slab, i thought, "wow, i just made cheese. how cool is that?" i'll definitely try it again. i'd love to achieve the perfect consistency.

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