Last week, I had my friend Daniel over to visit. Daniel and I know each other from my music school days where we sang in choir together. We hadn’t seen each other in a while as he had been in Germany for the last two years studying abroad at a music conservatory. The town he lived in while in Germany was small with a return to a slower and simpler life that Daniel adored. He told me how the experience had changed his life and he’ll be heading back as soon as possible. He shared stories about the tiny town where no one cared about Facebook or having a TV and everyone got together on an almost daily basis as their only form of entertainment. There was nothing else to do in the town except practice your music and hangout together. Daniel told me how he would practice his guitar till ten o’clock at night, head over to the window where he could look straight into windows of the school’s practice rooms and see his friend practicing away. If they happen to be taking a break at the same time they would lean out the window and shout across to each other which pub to meet up at after practice time was done.
I loved hearing about this return to simplicity, the serene pace of life, no commuting or endless distractions and the sense of community within the town. Daniel made it sound so refreshing and irresistible that I started craving that simplicity myself.
Daniel, a fellow fan of Indian food, told me how he taught himself to cook a lot of Indian food in Germany as there was no place to get it anywhere. Since there was no source of Indian food in his town, he had to trek out to the next town to pick up the spices. Then he told me how he actually learned to make his own paneer. This took me aback. The conversation went a bit like this:
Me: “You make your own paneer?” I asked, a bit baffled.
Daniel: “Yeah, I had to, there’s no way to get paneer in Germany. When I came back to the states I actually bought paneer at the store and it was terrible.”
Me: “Really?! I’ve never made my own paneer!” I admitted.
Daniel: “Oh, you gotta try it, it’s way better”. Daniel enthused.
And so I tried it and you know what? He was right. There is simply nothing like it. Thank you to my friend for sharing his store-bought packaged paneer deprived experiences in Germany and convincing me to make my own Indian cheese.
The most exciting part in learning to make my own paneer is realizing that anyone who doesn’t have easy access to an Indian store can now fully access a huge array of recipes just using milk, a bit of lemon or vinegar and some cheese cloth.
Homemade cheese is like nothing you will find in the Indian grocery store and I’m tempted to never go back to store-bought paneer. This do-it-yourself cheese is soft, melts in your mouth and has a fresh tangy flavor that store bought paneer can’t beat. I’ve chosen to add some herbs to the paneer (a bit of mint, cilantro and cumin seeds, just to make it look fancy) but if you would like to make plain paneer, just leave out the herbs.
Paneer is used in a whole lot of different Indian recipes ranging from appetizers, to main entrees as well as many desserts as well. Basically, Indians love their paneer and they use it in as many ways as possible.
It takes a lot of milk to get a little cheese, about 1 ounce of cheese per cup of milk. So when I make cheese, I use a full gallon of either whole milk or 2% milk, which makes about 24 ounces.
cheese cloth (also known as muslin cloth)
colander or large strainer
large pot (one with a heavy bottom will result in less burning of the milk)
1 gallon of milk (for this recipe I used 2% milk)
1/4-1/2 cup of lemon juice (about 2-3 lemons) or white vinegar – amount varies each time so have extra on hand
1. Pour a gallon milk into a large pot and heat on medium high. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. You can stand there for thirty minutes continuously stirring to avoid any burnt milk if you wish, but I just clean any burnt milk at the end with a simple trick (see tip at the end of this post).
update: I added chopped mint and cilantro along with a spoonful of cumin seeds just to dress it up a bit.
2. As the milk is boiling, get the strainer ready and the lemon juice or white vinegar . I prefer to use lemon as it adds a nice tangy quality to the paneer, but I’ve had great success with the vinegar as well.
- If using vinegar only add as much as it takes to curdle the milk properly (maybe less than a 1/4th cup, maybe only a little more). Adding too much vinegar will create a slight taste of vinegar in the paneer which is undesirable.
- If using lemon you can use bottled lemon juice or fresh lemons. For fresh lemons, roll and press the lemons on a hard surface before cutting them, this will help loosen the pulp. Cut the lemon in half and use a fork to loosen the pulp while squeezing out the juice. Do this over a strainer so it catches any seeds or pulp that drops.
Set the strainer/colander in the sink and line it with the cheese cloth. The cloth should be large enough that it hangs over the sides of the strainer/colander so you can gather up the cloth when squeezing out the water.
3. Once the milk comes to a boil, add a 1/4 cup of lemon juice or white vinegar to the milk and stir. The milk solids (the curd….remember curds and whey?) should separate almost instantaneously. You know it’s done when the liquid turns green and watery. If it’s still a bit white, it needs more acidity from the lemon or vinegar so add in a tablespoon at a time till the liquid is nice and green…yum!
4. Pour the curdled milk into the colander lined with the cheese cloth. Rinse the cheese in cold water, mixing it all around to cool it off enough so you don’t burn your hands when you squeeze it.
5. Gather up all the cloth, twist it a few times and create a tight bunch around the cheese and SQUEEZE!
6. Squeeze out as much water as you can muster, then either hang the cheese over a bowl in the refrigerator overnight so it drains, or place a weighted object over the cheese to press it till it’s the consistency you like. The longer you press or drain it, the more solid the cheese will be.
- If you want a crumbly cheese, press it for 30 minutes or hang for an hour, perhaps two.
- For a firm cheese that you can slice into squares without a crumble, press for an hour or two, or hang overnight.
- To make sure the paneer is not sitting in it’s own drained water, I like to set it on a flat strainer I have so the water drains away from the cheese into a bowl or plate (in this case I used a small pot). If you don’t have a flat strainer to use, wrap the cheese in two kitchen towels which can absorb the liquid.
7. Voila!! You have one of a kind, homemade, delicious paneer. Enjoy!
Tips for cleaning off burnt milk
If you’re like me, you probably now have a large pan scorched with burnt milk. Don’t fret, your not in for an hour of elbow grease.
To clean off any burned milk, and I always burn the milk, cover the bottom of the pot in water and bring to a boil. As it boils the burnt milk will loosen. Adding a pinch or two of salt will help get rid of any strong milk smell. Once the burnt milk loosens, simply scrape it away.