What is paneer? Traditionally made with buffalo milk in India, paneer is a perhaps the world’s most basic fresh cheese rendered simply by adding acid to unpasteurized milk so it coagulates, straining the curds from the whey, and pressing the curd. Ta da! To be a little more specific: whole cow’s, sheep or goat’s milk that has not been ultra pasteurized, plus lemon juice, lime juice or vinegar, a bit of cheese-bag or cloth, a stone, brick or heavy book… and just a few minutes. The result is much like tofu — a bland and slightly chewy semi-hard pressed cheese that takes on other flavours well. This paneer cheese recipe easily lends itself to experimenting with — just add seasonings to suit your tastes.
Read on to discover how easy it is to make three versions of paneer: plain, lemon, and spiced. (I loved all three paneer cheese recipes and couldn’t decide which to blog about, so take your pick. )
Inspiration: I started making paneer when organic spinach was on sale one day and I had become tired of salad, green smoothies, soup, and spanakopita. To try something different, I decided to make Palak Paneer — Indian style curried spinach tossed with fresh (sometimes fried) cheese cubes. A bit of research online revealed that paneer cheese is also known as Queso Blanco in Mexico. It is so simple to make at home that it begs to be made even simpler with Thermomix. Best of all, it’s even faster and easier than making yogurt!
Easier than making yogurt, really??? Yes. There is absolutely nothing about making paneer that is difficult — unless you call one minute of gentle stirring a difficult thing. And this of course, Thermomix does well. Which leaves us free to focus on other things — like looking out the window to see what the children are up to, wiping down the counter, feeding the pet, or smiling at the one you love.
The other thing to note when making paneer is watching the milk to ‘catch’ it at the right time. In this way Thermomix is also most helpful. Even though it is not recommended to boil milk in the Thermomix, I have found that by heating it just to 100°C and immediately turning it off, causes no problem. With just a bit of awareness, milk will not boil over, nor will it stick to the bottom of the jug. A mere ‘skin’ of milk may form on the bottom, but it’s easily cleaned up.
All in all, it takes about 10 minutes to make paneer, and 1-3 hours to wait for it to compress if you so desire. It tastes healthy and fresh and home-made paneer rewards all who make it with a bright burst of self esteem. You can make on a whim it in the afternoon, for use in tonight’s dinner!
Three ways and more — basic paneer is plain. You may want to try it first, to set a baseline for further experimentation. Instructions are provided below for adding lemon zest, and for a spiced version made with chili and fresh coriander. Here I find that the combination of the lemon juice (acid) combine with chili and cilantro for a most delightful and subtle chewy Thai-flavoured cheese. Sounds odd, tastes refreshing! (I’ve also made a smoked salt version, and many people like to add cumin seeds.) Like thermomix pizza crust, plain paneer is a clean canvas for culinary creativity. Are you having salad for dinner — consider tossing a handful of fresh herbs into a batch of paneer and using herbal paneer cubes in your salad. Unlike other cheeses, paneer does not melt. It lends itself well to frying or using in soups and stews. Baked on pizza, tossed into scrambled eggs, and especially yummy in Palak Panner, the popular Indian curry recipe I’ll be blogging about next!
- MILK: 1.5 - 2 litres milk (full fat cow or goat milk is best)
- ACID: 40 - 75 g lemon juice (start with about one lemon, or half the Thermomix measuring cap) (optionally, use lime juice or vinegar)
- SPICED SEASONINGS OPTION: teaspoon chili flakes, handful chopped fresh coriander (or spices, cumin seeds, herbs etc.)
- LEMON ZEST OPTION: lemon zest (use the zest of the lemon that you are juicing for acid.)
- Place milk in Thermomix bowl and heat to just boiling point >> 1.5 litres of refrigerated milk takes about 14 minutes/100°C/speed 2. Two litres will need about 18 minutes/100°C/speed 2. (Watch temperature lights and stop the Thermomix as soon as the 100°C stops blinking.)
- If making spiced paneer: add spiced seasoning at this time, insert butterfly and stir without heat for 1 minute/speed 2, so flavours are infused. (If making plain paneer, or lemon paneer, skip to next step.)
- Program the machine to stir for 1 minute/with butterfly/speed 1 as you pour lemon juice through the hole in the lid. Peek in to see the milk solids separate from the whey. If separation does not occur, simply add a bit more lemon juice.
- If making lemon paneer: add lemon zest at this time and stir about 4 seconds/butterly/speed one, just to distribute. (If making plain paneer, skip to next step.)
- Pour contents of Thermomix through a cheese bag, nut-milk bag, (or sterilized nylon) and allow to hang for 10-15 minutes to strain the curds from the whey. Do this over a large pot if you are planning to retain the whey for later use (see note below). Squeeze out remaining liquid by hand. It is now a crumbly fresh cheese that can be used like cottage cheese or ricotta.
- To form the cheese, place in a flat bowl or plate with an edge and wrap it in a fresh cheesecloth or clean kitchen towel. Press with a heavy weight for 1-3 hours. Paneer becomes less crumbly from this weighting process, and by refrigeration. After about an hour, I usually transfer to the fridge while maintaining pressure for another hour or two.more tips: click on photos above for more detailed info.
- Use freshly made paneer in the traditional paneer recipe, Palak Paneer.