Say cheese


I have a preoccupation with cheese.

Both the dairy product, and the adjective describing an inferiority that inadvertently gives something a certain endearment.

I mean I REALLY like cheese. There is nothing better than a big hunk of stilton on a cracker, some havarti between two pieces of bread, gruyére melted in with some eggs, or a wedge of poshekhonsky on a Swiss Air 757 flying over Tehran, while while watching The Jar Jar Binks and Queen Amidala Comedy and Variety Hour on the video monitor mounted in the seat. I just like cheese.

But before I went to India, I wasn’t all that fond of the Indian version of cheese, paneer. I’m going to chalk up this mild disdain that I had to two things. 1) ignorance, and 2) inferior packaged palak paneer (Spinach and Cheese). The only time I ever had paneer was with spinach and thought that even though there is an abundance of cheesiness in their movies and TV shows, there was the limitation of cheese in Indian cuisine.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In India, panneer is used much the way that tofu is used in Japan, and it is abundant. At most restaurants, if there is a dish or curry or deep fried wonder that uses chicken, there is usually a paneer option. Even the fast food restaurants, like KFC or McDonalds, have paneeer options (although I’m not a fan of the paneer kickers, the McPaneer, or the “Finger lickin good blobs of paneer in the Colonel’s eleven herbs and spices”).

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While in Agra, I had a fantastic kadhai paneer that impressed me so much that I forgot to get the name of the restaurant, and the tandoor paneer at Club India in Main Bazaar in New Delhi was outstanding. I also had numerous dishes in Haridwar that used the creamy curds that were yummy.

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So when I returned to Canada, I really wanted to duplicate the versatility of this Indian chicken substitute. So I scoured the internet and found a vast amount of recipes using paneer. But what I was really surprised about was how easy it is to make your own paneer instead of using the blocks that can be found at many grocery stores. It just takes a little time.

So I put on a CD of my favourite cheesy crooner, Calen Varga, turned up his awesome and clearly underrated ballad called Shave My Gorilla, and attempted to assemble the creamy cheese of India.

Homemade Paneer inspired by the misunderstood crooner Calen Varga

2 liters milk (whole or 2%)
lemon juice (to be added a tablespoon at a time)
a colander or strainer
cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel
2 pie plates or similar

In a pot, bring the milk to a boil. (Careful, it can boil over quick).

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Turn off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Stir with a slotted spoon until milk separates into curds and whey. If it doesn’t separate after a few minutes of stirring, add another tablespoon of lemon juice until it does (I needed to use 5 tablespoons in the end).

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Once it’s completely separated, pour the mixture into a colander lined with cheese cloth or a clean dish towel.

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When it cools down, gather the corners of the cheesecloth into a bundle and squeeze out as much of the excess liquid as you can.

What you have now is basically cottage cheese, and it can be used as such. But we want to make it a solid mass so we can cut the cheese.

Go into your cupboard and look for a couple of pie plates or similar high lipped plate. When you discover that your cat has figured out how to open your cupboards and has been using the pie plates as a day bed to take the occasional nap on, empty said cupboard and clean everything in it.

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Take the whole bundle and place it in the middle of one of the pie plates, then take the other pie plate and squish it flat. Pile a few heavy objects, like some other bowls or some canned goods for weight and throw the whole thing into your fridge for about 2 hours until it sets.

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Once it sets, you can cut it into cubes for use in your favourite recipes like Butter Paneer or Kadhai Paneer which I will post at a later date.

You will find this homemade paneer more crumbly than the store bought versions, but it is super creamy and adds a depth to recipes that the others just can’t match.

While we wait for the cheese to set, you can listen to the awesome cheesiness of Calen Varga and his epic opus Love Train, while you figure out what else the cat has gotten into.

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5 thoughts on “Say cheese

  1. I’m most impressed at your sense of adventure in trying and succeeding in making paneer. Here in Guatemala, there exists a variety of soft cheese called “queso de capa”. I’ll have to try it in my own version of palak paneer, being too lazy to try your method. Loved the looks of your kitchen cupboard with its little occupant.

    • JBJ says:

      I’m not sure how much of an adventure it was, but it’s pretty tasty. I can see palak paneer working with a variety of cheeses or even tofu.

      The occupant has since been evicted since she wasn’t paying rent on that cupboard and was just a squatter :P.

      I’m enjoying reading of YOUR adventures though, and love your pictures :).

  2. JBJ says:

    Well, she gets free rent on the couch… And the bed… And the coffee table. 😛

    Being raised in Canada, I grew up around French, and although I’m not fluent, I can understand enough to get by. Winnipeg (the town where I live) has a French quarter called St. Boniface, and English is the second language for the residents there. So I don’t mind at all that half of your blog is in another language. Besides, with the Internet today it’s easy enough to get a rough translation.

    • Hugely relieved on account of your feline tenant!
      Could you believe that as a chauvinistic Québécoise, I tend to forget that a huge amount of people speak French outside of our holy (or perhaps not-so-holy) province!
      I also forgot, technically challenged that I am, that you can translate everything on Internet. You see I’m a translator myself and I’m sometimes rather offended by the wonky translations the poor machine manages to churn out. But I agree with you, it’s better than nothing!

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