On our Menu today:
Thyme and Lemon Paneer
Paneer with a Hint of Warm Spices
Honey and Cinnamon Flavored Paneer
Few Indian culinary words can bring the same happy knowing look to people’s face, as India’s favorite homemade fresh cheese, Paneer.
Better known as ‘Indian Cottage Cheese’ in most of the world, Paneer almost needs no introduction and is often talked about by food magazines and bloggers alike.
For those of you who may have missed the Paneer chatter, it’s worth knowing that the basic process for making this well-known, freshly set Indian cottage cheese is very similar to that of most fresh cheeses like goat cheese or ricotta.
Warm milk is split or curdled by adding an acid element to it, so that the curd portion of the milk separates to create Paneer and the whey or water content is drained off.
For the mathematically inclined, here’s a simple formula for homemade Paneer:
Milk of choice + acid element (lemon juice or white vinegar works best) + flavorings/spices/seasonings as desired
= Delicious Homemade Paneer or Indian Cottage Cheese
As kids, making fresh Paneer with Mom always felt like a fun science experiment to us; and the resulting Paneer never really made it to its final meal destination, cause one of the kids would’ve eaten it before the fresh cheese had time to set in the plate.
This delightful culinary treat is also sold as street food in India, by vendors going door-to-door, doling out cloudy-soft bite size Paneer balls (similar to mozzarella cheese) in little bowls, to eager kids and adults.
Paneer is actually used very differently in different parts of the country. The better-known west and north Indian version is a well-set Paneer, in which most of the whey has been drained and the cottage cheese is cut into pieces for use in popular dishes like Paneer Tikka, Palak (spinach) Paneer or a potato & peas curry (Aloo Mutter Paneer) like this one.
However, in the east of India, Paneer makes a sweeter softer appearance as ‘Chenna’, which is fresh cheese with a higher content of whey, used to make mouthwatering milk-based desserts like Rasgulla and Rasmalai.
The basic process for making homemade Paneer is simple and needs no special ingredients or expertise, the most important part is looking for cheesecloth and something to weigh down the cheese as it sets.
Today, let’s give the quintessential Indian Paneer a global twist and explore this culinary specialty from a new angle; in fact from three interesting new angles, along with some great serving ideas for each one.
Go ahead, try one or all of these Paneer versions in your kitchen; the amazing freshness of homemade flavored Paneer just has to be tasted to be believed…
- (This recipe can be doubled, if required)
- 2 cups milk (whole or 2% milk works best, low fat can also be used)
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala
- Pinch of ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Heat milk in a saucepan, making sure the milk does not come to boil but just heats up till small bubbles form around the edge of the milk.
- Turn off the flame and stir the flavorings and seasoning (based on the version of Paneer being tried out) into the milk. Next add the white vinegar OR lemon juice, as per the recipe.
- The milk will instantly curdle when the white vinegar or lemon juice is added to it. Leave the milk to completely separate into curd and whey for 5 minutes in the saucepan.
- Lay a double layer of clean cheesecloth or muslin cloth on a strainer or colander. Drain the curdled milk through the strainer, discard the whey (watery yellow strained liquid) and leave the fresh cheese standing on a colander, to drip into a bowl for 30-45 minutes.
- Note on Paneer consistency: The hardness of the cheese will depend on how well it has been drained. So based on intended use of the cheese; drain for only 20-30 minutes for softer spreadable cheese, and for harder well-set cheese, drain for 45 minutes to an hour.
- Once drained, lift and twist the ends of the cheese cloth along with the cheese, and set it in a plate, add another flat bottom plate on top and lay weight on it (about ½ lb of beans, pack of frozen peas or a book, all work well.)
- Refrigerate for 3-4 hours before consuming as desired.
- • For an interesting appetizer, drizzle lemon juice over the Paneer and serve cubes of cottage cheese on a platter.
- • A perfect midday snack, served with sliced apples, pear or dried nuts.
- • Add slices of Thyme and Lemon Paneer to your favorite burger, sandwich or sub.
- • Cut into dices and add this Paneer to your favorite curry like Palak Paneer (spinach) or Aloo Mutter Paneer (potato & peas.)
- • Stir fry Paneer with a hint of cayenne pepper and cumin along with assorted vegetables.
- • Spread coconut cilantro chutney on sliced bread and add slices of Paneer for a delicious Paneer Chutney sandwich.
- • For a quick party appetizer, set the Paneer in a round shape, drizzle olive oil, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper over it, served as a spread along with crusty baguette or crackers.
- • Cubes of Honey and Cinnamon Flavored Paneer make a perfect dipper for chocolate fondues and fountains.
- • Serve slices of this sweet Paneer as a dessert with chocolate truffles on the side.
- • Top your favorite crackers with sliced Honey and Cinnamon Flavored Paneer and arrange them on a platter for a simple appetizer.