paneer

I shouldn’t have waited so long to make this.

But turning milk into cheese sounds intimidating.  How could I tell when my curds were curdy enough given that all I knew about curds and whey I learned from Miss Muffet?  But this afternoon my craving for palak paneer – that Indian restaurant staple of creamy spicy spinach and pillows of fresh cheese – got the best of me, and soon I was walking from work to the market on a cheese-making mission.  Fortunately for my pocketbook, paneer consists of two ingredients: milk and lemon juice.  That’s right – no salt, no rennet, even the lemon gets washed away after it performs its job as an acidic catalyst.  Paneer is a perfect blank slate.  And, as I learned tonight, homemade paneer is airy, silky smooth, and fries up golden crisp outside and marshmallow soft inside.  Witch each bite I swooned, then regretted every bag of frozen paneer or paneer substitute (firm tofu, queso para frier) I had ever used in an Indian dish.

To make the paneer I followed the technique described by Julie Sahni in Classic Indian Cooking.  It so happens that making curds and whey is as easy as finding a heavy-bottomed pot, bringing milk to a boil, and stirring in some lemon juice.

I poured it all through a cheesecloth-lined colander, rinsed away the lemon taste with cold water, and was left with the curdly good stuff.

I then tied the cheesecloth tight around the curds, squeezed out as much liquid as I could, and hung it from the faucet using the hair-tie that’s perpetually around my wrist (and now smells like cheese).

After an hour and a half of drip-drying, I moved the whole bundle to a cutting board, and pressed it flat with a heavy dutch oven, turning the cheese ball into more of a cheese puck.  Half an hour later I removed the weight and unwrapped the cloth to reveal a perfectly cube-able disk of paneer.

I cut the paneer into cubes, froze the majority for future meals, and used the rest to make palak paneer, a recipe I improvised with help from here and here.  This is my go-to dish at every Indian restaurant, but I might have ruined that for myself, because mine was better.  Sublime really.  Unlike most restaurant versions, the cheese had no hint of ruberiness or greasiness.  Its crisp outside guarded a velvet interior; and it was light, much more so than I had ever tasted.  That milk and lemon alone can make this (in the time between work and dinner) seems like pure alchemy.  Delicious alchemy.  Alchemy I shall be performing again and again.

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2 Comments

Filed under dinner, Erica

2 responses to “paneer

  1. Alyssa

    A mumblepie revival! Hallelujah!!!

  2. aunt susan

    Yum!! You are truly amazing!! I’m waiting for my invitation to come partake.. (Gainesville’s pretty far to come for dinner, so soon!)

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