It was one of my first cooking experiences in the kitchen, and one that I remember vividly. Interestingly, it wasn’t something I grew-up eating very frequently at home, or for that matter outside at a restaurant in the region of India where I grew up. It is, however, one of my earliest food recollections that I remember not just for the way it tasted but also for how it was made.
Paneer is the Indian name, and ricotta is the closest western term, to describe what is essentially a form of home-made cheese. Below, is a method to make paneer.
Coarsely ground cumin (optional)
Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pan, and reduce heat. Add freshly squeezed lemon juice, and stir gently. Wait for a few minutes, remove from heat, and allow for milk to curdle completely. Add more lemon juice if needed to complete curdling. Using a strainer lined with cheese-cloth, strain the curdled, soft, white cheese from the clear liquid.
Gather the cheese-cloth into a ball, tie a knot at the top, and let drain. Sandwich the drained ball of paneer between layers of clean kitchen towels or clean absorbent kitchen paper, and put a weight on top for a couple of hours to compress and drain completely. Once completely drained, unfold cheese-cloth and cut the solid mass of cheese into small pieces. Lightly, toss panner with freshly ground cumin or any other spice of choice. Heat butter in a skillet to lightly brown the pieces of paneer before serving it as is or with a tomato and cream-based sauce.
Anytime, I see or read about cheese-making that is far more complex than what is described above, my mind instantly races back to my childhood experience of making paneer. Today, in particular, I think about making paneer as the lady who first taught me how to, my grandmother, turns eighty, and still reminds me that the whey resulting from the curdling process is healthy enough not to be wasted.
Sibel, a reader of this blog, has posted in the comments section below, a recipe for a Turkish breakfast dish called menemen that uses paneer.