Paneer is an essential component of Indian cuisine, especially in North Indian or Punjabi dishes. It is a mild cheese made usually from whole milk, similar to a Farmer’s cheese. It has a firm texture and is a non-melting cheese that can withstand prolonged cooking times and still have the ability to retain its shape, texture and flavor.
Home made paneer has a wonderful fresh taste and is also easy to make but store bought paneer is just as good and is easily available in any Indian grocery store. You can also substitute firm ricotta cheese or extra firm tofu as well. Feel free to use organic milk and make your own home made organic paneer.
HOME MADE PANEER
Yield: 8 ounces
6 cups whole milk (can use 2% milk also)
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
¼ cup water
In a large heavy bottomed saucepan on medium high heat, add the water and milk and bring to a gentle boil. Add the lime or lemon juice and reduce the heat to medium low. Bring to boil and stir until the milk separates and curdles. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool.
Line a colander with a very fine cheesecloth or muslin in 3 layers. Place this in a larger bowl and drain the curdled milk/cheese mixture. Using the ends of the cheesecloth, twist into a tight ball to remove any excess whey (or liquid). Then using the ends of the cheesecloth, tie the remaining cheese into a very tight bundle and squeeze or wring out any excess liquid. Then hang the tied cheesecloth over a bowl to drain for at least 2-3 hours. The liquid (or whey) can be reserved and actually used in curries and also in making deliciously soft chapathis, phulkas or rotis.
After the whey has been completely drained, wrap the solid paneer in the cheesecloth and place on a large baking sheet. You will need to weigh this down; by using a heavy cast iron pan or skillet, a saucepan filled with water or even a foiled covered brick will work. Use your imagination and creativity.
After 30 minutes, your paneer is ready to use. Carefully unwrap the paneer and use according to the recipe. I like to cut the paneer into 1-inch cubes, pan fry in a little oil or ghee until golden brown on all sides if you like. Drain well and add to your favorite paneer recipe such as palak paneer or matar paneer. The fried paneer cubes can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days in the refrigerator or for several months in the freezer.
Instead of lemon or lime juice, you can use 1 cup of buttermilk or 1 cup of yogurt or 3 tbsp of white wine vinegar. Adding the buttermilk or yogurt will give your paneer a slightly tart flavor. Using fresh lemon or lime juice will give your paneer a wonderful citrus flavor and using vinegar will give you a strong tangy flavored paneer. Try them all and chose your favorite method.
For healthier paneer dishes, omit pan frying the paneer and use directly in your dishes as required.
I find the paneer much easier to cut into cubes after refrigerating for at least 30-45 minutes. Feel free to add some fresh herbs or red/green chilies to the paneer for added flavor and taste.
Instead of croutons, add some lightly fried paneer cubes to your Caesar salad :-)