Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Flash in the Paneer

In planning the menu for tomorrow evening's Indian feast, I kept coming back to shahi paneer for a main dish. I love the creamy tomato sauce and the combination of spices, and it works so well with so many things.

But I usually make this dish with pressed tofu, and I wasn't sure if any of my guests had a serious objection to tofu.

So I looked in my trusty Indian vegetarian cookbook at the recipe for paneer... and was pleasantly surprised to find that it seemed extraordinarily simple. Yes, I had planned to make burfee from scratch... did I dare make homemade paneer as well?

Well, yes, especially after doing a quick Google search and reading about a fellow blogger's experience with paneer making. I knew it would be a challenge, requiring my full attention and my intuition as to when to move on to each new step, but hey, I'm nothing if not a cook who enjoys the occasional challenge.

I stocked the refrigerator with a half gallon of the local dairy's whole milk and plenty of lime juice, but I decided to start with a test batch that used 2% milk and nonfat plain yogurt. Not only did I want to start with a smaller batch, but I was interested to see what the difference might be between the full-fat and low-fat version.

I set the milk on to boil and stirred, stirred, stirred until the milk began to thicken, foam, and, finally, seethe. (I know, that sounds ludicrously poetic for something so mundane, but watching the milk during this process does take on a mysterious, expectant quality.) Just before the milk started to rise up, threatening to boil over, I added the yogurt and stirred some more, waiting for the mixture to curdle.

After the mixture had boiled again, I poured it all into a muslin-lined strainer, separating it into curds and whey. (Little Miss Muffett would be so jealous!)

I let the whey drain off into a pan (later, a bucket) instead of directly into the sink as I've read in a couple different places that the whey can be used to enrich and thicken soups and gravies... worth a try! And once enough of the liquid had drained off, I gathered the ends of the muslin, twisted them closed, and squeezed a little more out.

Keeping the twist in the muslin, I laid the bundle on a plate, piled another plate and a couple of heavy bowls on top in order to press out the last whey, much like I would press tofu for the same dish. About a quarter of an hour later, the paneer was sufficiently pressed:

After unwrapping the bundle of paneer with care, I had a fist-sized lump of mild homemade cheese, ready to be cut into cubes (or whatever worked, given the somewhat ragged edge).

Success! I was so pleased with the results that after lunch, I immediately returned to the kitchen to make the full batch of paneer, using the whole milk and lime juice. The process went as before, and I found only slight differences between the batches. The whole milk paneer had a slight lime bite to it (very pleasing to me since I love limes) and a smoother, moister texture (which is likely due to the higher fat content in the milk but might also be due to a shorter pressing time).

(Low-fat paneer on the left, paneer made with whole milk on the right.)

On the whole, making paneer turned out to be a delightfully simple adventure, and since paneer can be frozen for later use, I can easily see myself making another big batch of paneer in the future.

But for now, this batch has gone into the fridge for Sunday dinner. Back in a flash!


At 2/21/2008 2:03 AM, Blogger Bri said...

It never occurred to me to make my own paneer. I'm so excited you posted this and the link to the other recipe. Next week, I am starting a fast for six weeks from salt (like I mentioned before) and this will be the perfect addition to my "made from scratch" salt free recipes. Yay! I'll let you know how it goes as soon as I make it. Thanks!

At 2/21/2008 6:57 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Great idea, Bri! You can also liven it up by adding herbs, too. And sometimes I don't bother pressing it, like for the b'stilla... crumbled works fine in some dishes.

Careful, though... you might get hooked. ;-)


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