My first cheese

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.

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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.

Whole Milk

Lemon

Coarsely ground cumin (optional)

Cheesecloth

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Post-script

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.

I look forward to reading your thoughts...

  1. The whey went down the drain when I made paneer till I met my friend Padmini who taught me substitute whey to water while kneading the wheat dough to make chappatis, the indian bread. The chappatis tasted good and I found them to be very soft.

    • Yes, using whey to make chappati dough does make the chappatis softer. I was also told that the protein content in whey allows for it to be drunk as is as a health drink.

  2. We do MENEMEN for breakfast in Turkey. It is a kind of scrambled eggs with paneer cheese. There are many versions, I am putting below the one I like best!

    Ingredients (for 4 pers)

    4 Tomatoes
    4 long Turkish type green peppers (mild or hot as you like it)
    200 gr cheese (paneer, feta or similar)
    100 gr butter
    8 eggs
    Salt, ground black pepper, paprika

    Instructions:

    1. Cut the cheese into small cubes
    2. Make a cross in the top of the tomatoes and put them in hot water a few minutes.
    3. Pass them under cold water and remove the skins.
    4. Cut the tomatoes into small pieces.
    5. Wash the peppers and cut them into very small rings.
    6. Heat the butter in a big skillet.
    7. Cook the peppers until soft. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the cheese, let it melt a little.
    8. Beat the eggs with salt, pepper and paprika.
    9. Pour mixture over vegetables. Keep stirring with a fork until set.

    Enjoy!

    PS. I couldn’t post a photo here but you can see a picture@below link:
    http://www.wittistanbul.com/magazine/top-10-things-to-eat-in-istanbul/

    • Thank you very much for posting the recipe and link to the picture of Turkish menemen – it sounds and looks appetizing. While, I’ve tasted eggs in a tomato and pepper sauce for breakfast, I’ve never tried it with paneer as in menemen. I’m going to try this recipe, and will remember to tell my grandmother about it as well!

  3. Try using vinegar instead of lime to make the paneer as it does not leave an acidic taste & is much softer The milk should come to a rapid, rolling boil & then vinegar added & taken off the fire quickly when the whey turns clear
    Also , if you remove the paneer from under the weights approx 10 minutes after it sets ,it will be moist & soft.
    Paneer can be used directly after straining for making it like scrambled egg & also for stuffed parathas & piazzas ala Indian style !

    • Thank you for sharing these tips. Yes, I have tried the vinegar-based method, and like that, too. However, I haven’t tried using the softer version of paneer, which sounds like a good idea. As for stuffed parathas (an Indian flat bread), perhaps, I can learn how to make them from you someday?

  4. Bala ,It will be a pleasure to show you how to make a thin crust , crisp Paneer paratha . I hope that will happen soon because I am waiting to learn a few Bala & Pavi Specials from you & Pavi So be prepared for a Marathon cooking session!

  5. I just made your paneer recipe with lactose-free milk and it is still DELICIOUS! I’m putting it in spinach pie (Ina Garden) replacing nutmeg for garam marsala. Happy weekend cooking times!

    • It is great to know that you found a suitable milk that still allows you to enjoy it. Paneer in a spinach pie sounds delicious – thanks for sharing, and happy weekend-cooking to you as well!