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