Thursday, January 14, 2010

Veggie Might: Make Your Own Paneer (Fresh Indian Cheese)

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.

Back in November, my company held its annual Multi-Cultural Feast. It’s a fun, food-centric celebration to which everyone brings a dish from their homeland—be it Indiana or India.

One of my favorite dishes this year was Anand’s palek paneer (spinach with fresh cheese). It was spicier and tastier than any I’ve ever had in an Indian restaurant. I asked Anand if he would share the recipe, expecting to get one passed down from his grandmother or an auntie or something.

“Sure,” he said, a little sheepishly. “I got it from the Internet. I’ll send you the link. I put in too many chilies, though; you’ll want to use less.”

I had to laugh. That’s how so many of my “family recipes” return to my rotation. I’ll call my mother to get the recipe for grandma’s pound cake or Aunt Jane’s pimento cheese and I’ll realize she’s reading to me from All Recipes.

Whether a generations-old family favorite, or right off the Web, Anand’s palek paneer was awesome and I had to try it. I followed the link (to the charming and informative Indira’s cooking blog, Mahanandi) and found it, to my delight and terror, called for homemade paneer.

I’ve always wanted to make my own cheese, but excused myself because my kitchen is Too Small and rennet is Gross and Horrifying. Well, turns out my kitchen Just Fine and rennet is Mercifully Unnecessary. Here’s what you need for homemade paneer:


Large, heavy-bottom pot
Large spoon or spatula
Cheese cloth (for its intended purpose!)

1/2 gallon of milk (whole or 2% work best)
juice of 1 lime (about 2–3 tbsp)

And time. It takes time, but much of that is waiting—for the curds and whey to separate, for the whey to drip away, and for the curds to solidify. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s do this.

Squeeze the lime juice in advance.

Step 1
Over medium heat, slowly bring the milk to a boil in the heavy bottomed pot. Stir with spoon or spatula often to avoid scorching. This takes about 15 minutes.

Step 2
When the milk starts to boil, add the lime juice and stir constantly. You’ll see small curds begin to develop. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue stirring for 5 minutes. The whey will separate from the curds, which will rise to the top.

Step 3
Turn off heat and allow to sit for another five minutes or so to cool a bit. Line the colander with cheesecloth. You’ll need about a yard, folded in half.

Step 4
Pour the curds and whey into the cloth-lined colander and drain. Pick up the ends of the cheesecloth and give the curds a squeeze. Tie a knot a couple of inches above the curds and allow to hang over the sink for 30 minutes until all the whey has dripped out.

Step 5
Untie the knot and twist the cloth to the top of the curds, squeezing out any remaining whey. Tie a knot at the top of the curds and allow to hang for another 30 minutes.

Step 6
Remove the curds from the cloth and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 2–3 hours to allow the curds to bind together.

Step 7
You have cheese ready for use in recipes or frying.

This cheese has a very mild flavor on it’s own. It tastes mostly like milk, but it adds a delicious creaminess to recipes like palek paneer, which I’ll feature next week.

I made two batches: one with whole milk and one with 2%. There is little difference in taste between the two, so if you want to save calories and fat, go for the 2%. The whole milk cheese is slightly richer, but the main difference: 1/2 gallon of whole milk made 10 oz of cheese, whereas 1/2 of 2% made 8 oz of cheese. Less fat, less cheese.

Since my success with paneer, friends from other countries, like Russia and Ukraine, have shared that “that’s how we made cheese back home.” It’s basically the same recipe as queso fresco and farmer’s cheese. Universally, it seems that milk + acid + heat + time = cheese. That’s some math I can use.

If you like this article, you may enjoy

Nutritional Calculations
Whole Milk Paneer: 795 calories, 62.4g fat, 0g fiber, $2.39
Per 1-oz serving: 79.5 calories, 6.24g fat, 0g fiber, $.24

2% Milk Paneer: 530 calories, 41.6g fat, 0g fiber, $2.39
Per 1-oz serving: 66.25 calories, 5.2g fat, 0g fiber, $.30

Nutritional data source: Raja Foods and my own calculations for the 2% milk paneer. If you find more accurate data, please let me know!

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Wendy said...

Hey, what's wrong with rennet? They do make a vegetarian version.

JuLo said...

You know, I've had the same paneer recipe for a year now, and I've never been brave enough to try it. Thanks for the step by step pictures! I think I'll make a go of it now! :)

Jennifer said...

Paneer is easy and fun to make. It's been ages but I recall that ultra pasturized milk (like Horizon Organic) either doesn't work as well or doesn't work at all.

Anna said...

I've been wanting to make homemade ricotta for a while now, and this recipe looks very similar. Cool!

tinuviel said...

It's spelled "palak", not "palek" :) but thanks for the recipe!

Anonymous said...

Rennet is an enzyme from a calf's stomach. There are 'vegetarian' versions available called modulaise or coagulant. They are synthetic but work the same way (although, you reduce the amount of rennet by half if using the synthetic). I imagine you could find it anywhere that sells cheese cultures, etc. Online might be your best bet.

Ultra pasturized milk will not make cheese, so check your carton before buying.

Anand said...

The paneer looks authentic :) Am waiting to see how your palak paneer comes out. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

this is great - I think I'll give it a shot...don't know why, but I already have cheese cloth. D este!

Parul said...

Chef Parul

I have been in the process of developing healthy Indian recipes for some cooking classes I teach and I made paneer with 2% milk and pressed it into a rectangular mold after the initial straining process, so I get a cheese that's firmer and easier to cut into cubes. I use a whole gallon of 2% milk and 1/2 cup of vinegar (takes much less time to curdle). It might taste a little more acidic, but I enjoy it and it tastes like the paneer I used to work with in an Indian restaurant. It was a great contribution to my healthy Palak Paneer. Instead of frying the paneer, I spray a baking sheet with cooking spray, place the paneer cubes on it, and then spray the paneer again with cooking spray. I bake it in the oven at 400 for about 5 - 10 minutes until it starts getting a little golden brown on the outside. Works like a charm and saves a lot of fat and calories.