Blessed Are The Cheesemakers…

…or so goes the line from Monty Python’s achingly funny and irreverent Life of Brian.

And let it be known that I’m quite happy to give it up for cheesemakers everywhere. I can’t really imagine life without cheese (and I’m sure that Grilled Cheese Shane would agree with me on that). I’ve even dabbled in rudimentary cheesemaking myself, at least to the extent of making homemade Indian cheese or paneer a few times.

Paneer with toasted cumin seeds

Paneer with toasted cumin seeds - just add curry

It’s just about the simplest of cheeses to make because it consists only of the curds that remain when boiling milk has been separated using some vinegar. It’s endlessly versatile but, then again, cheeses are like that. You can use the drained curds as is in salads or as an alternative to tofu in stir fries or as a (less creamy) replacement for ricotta. You can press the paneer into patties and then slice and fry it or cut into cubes and use in any number of Indian recipes. You can flavour it or not, as takes your fancy. Traditionally it’s made with buffalo milk (same as buffalo mozzarella) but, for those of you not on milking terms with any buffaloes, regular cowjuice will do nicely. Please use the full-fat, as-nature-intended milkstuff, though. You’ll thank me.

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Spinach + Paneer Curds: Not Your Usual Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer is one of the regular features of Indian restaurant fare, usually a spicy, saucy concoction, the main components of which are spinach (and sometimes other leafy greens) and chunks of pressed paneer. Here spinach and paneer curds have joined forces in a simple salady thing that you might eat for lunch along with some crusty bread and nice tomatoes. It’s like saag paneer just took a Mediterranean holiday.

paneer and spinach

The paneer:
  • 2 litres whole milk
  • 3-4 tblsps white vinegar
  • 1 cinnamon stick, about 5cm length
The rest:
  • 400g spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • large pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 tblsps pine nuts
  • 1 tblsp lemon juice
  • 0.25 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • butter or olive oil for frying
The Steps:
  • Make a batch of paneer as per the basic recipe (given below), but add the cinnamon stick to the pot with the milk. Remove the stick once the curds are separated and strained. You just need soft curds for this recipe, so let the curds sit and strain while you get on with the rest.
  • Wash the spinach well and remove any tough stalks. Chop into strips about 2cm wide. Finely chop the garlic.
  • Toast the pine nuts over a medium heat in a dry frying pan until golden. They burn easily, so toss them around frequently and watch them carefully. They should only take a few minutes to brown lightly.
  • Place a pan over a medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add about a tblsp of butter or a glug of olive oil and swirl it around the pan.
  • Add the garlic to the pan, stir and fry briefly and then add the spinach, salt and cayenne, if using.
  • Stir and fry for a couple of minutes, until the spinach has just wilted.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the strained paneer curds, the pine nuts, the lemon juice, a good twist of black pepper and, if it needs it, additional coarse salt to taste.
The Variations:
  • Substitute your choice of other greens for the spinach.
The Results:
  • Lunch portions for 4 or so
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Basic Paneer

This comes from my oft-consulted copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian.

You’ll need:
  • 2 litres whole milk
  • 3-4 tblsps white vinegar
You’ll also need:
  • A large, heavy saucepan in which to boil the milk, plus a colander and tea-towel for straining.
The Steps:
  • Place your colander in the sink and line with a clean tea-towel or few layers of muslin.
  • Put the milk in a large heavy saucepan over a medium-high heat.
  • Stir the milk occasionally while it’s heating, otherwise you’re likely to end up with burnt milk residue on the base of the pot (at least that’s what happens to me!)
  • When the milk is just beginning to boil, turn the heat to low and add 3 tblsps of vinegar. The milk should curdle and separate into solid white curds and a thin greenish liquid, the whey.
  • The curdling should start happening right after the vinegar is added. If it doesn’t, add another tblsp of vinegar.
  • Once the milk is separated (which won’t take long, maybe a minute or so) remove from the heat and pour the contents into your lined colander. Most of the whey will drain out.
  • Now, you can either just let the curds sit and drain for 5-10 minutes and use them as soft curds (as you might use ricotta) or you can press them into a solid patty.
  • To press into a patty, gather up the ends of the tea-towel, twist and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
  • Then take your little cloth bundle, flatten it into your desired patty shape and leave the top firmly twisted. Sit it on a board in the sink and top with another board and weight it down for about 3-4 minutes. The weight (a heavy pot, say, or a combination of pots) should weigh at least 2.25kg.
  • The paneer is now ready. It can be sliced and fried or cut into cubes and used in any number of Indian recipes.
The Variations:
  • Having read Jenni’s post on the world of dairy infusion, I thought, hey, ho, I could add something into the milk to impart some flavour while it boils. So far I have tried adding a piece of cinnamon stick and ended up with lovely, mildly cinnamon-flavoured curds. There are lots of other things you could try adding, like bay leaves, cloves or other whole spices, depending on how you want the curds to taste.
  • If you’re going to press the paneer, you can mix herbs or spices into the curds just before you press them. For Indian dishes I like to add 1 tsp of toasted cumin seeds and a couple of twists of black pepper to the paneer but you can choose the flavouring to suit whatever dish you’re making.
The Results:
  • Approx. 250g of paneer
Comments
  • How cool are you to take my rules and apply them to Blessed Cheesemaking?! You are a Genius–cinnamon cheese! Think of the possibilities (but I’m sure you already are)!!

    And sometimes, just for fun, I sing “every sperm is sacred.” That’s how much I love me some Monty Python!

  • Lemon juice is my choice of acid for paneering – is vinegar a better choice? Is it whey better?

  • OMG…I love Monty Python!!!! Holy Grail would have to be on the top of my list, then Life of Brian. :-P

    I do have to agree with you. I really don’t know what the world would be like without cheese. Saag paneer is one of my favorite Indian dishes. I’d love to try that.

  • How do you find time to do these things? I’m standing in my kitchen looking at my packet of ramen and thinking, “Spud would be so disappointed in you.” Well, I like ramen just fine. So there. Seriously, though, this is so cool. I may just give this a go in the near future. How awesome would this be crumbled on top of naan bread?

  • I love making paneer and your creative ideas are wonderful additions. I confess when you had the title of “not your usual saag paneer” I quickly scrolled down expecting to find reference to potato in there some where. I just made some last week,with a recipe I got on line because I was too lazy to grab my copy of Mahur’s wonderful book, and confess to being a bit disappointed. Your version sounds like just what I need to recover. =)

  • You’re good. Real good. Do you realize how fairly simple you’ve made cheese-making sound? Perhaps we can start doing this at home and selling it to make a little extra dough. :)

  • And both those dishes were scrumdiddlyumptious, I can testify. I love my life as Chief Taster :-)))))

  • Jenni: oh yes, this has undoubted possibilities… :)

    Oisin: I don’t know that it’s necessarily a better choice – I think you can pretty much use vinegar or lemon juice interchangeably here – I’ve just gotten into the habit of using vinegar; as for the whey, note to self – try to be awake when reading comments – I initially answered the question “is the whey better?” (along the very earnest lines of “I don’t think it’s a case of being better, just different – if you plan on using the whey for something, then you might prefer lemon whey over vinegar whey”) but, of course, that was not the, er, question, d’oh!

    jenn: a world without cheese doesn’t bear thinking about…

    Angry Brit: we are all allowed to have ramen moments, no shame in that :) – and yes to the naan bread for sure

    OysterCulture: it’s definitely a different take on the concept alright!

    Duo Dishes: the duo cheeses? it’s got a certain ring to it :)

    Ange: it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it!

  • i’m so afraid of making my own cheese… but this looks so tasty! i have to give it a try. i like the toasted cumin seeds in there :D

  • Saag paneer on a Mediterranean holiday? May I please, please come along? Your paneer with toasted cumin seeds is truly a thing of beauty! I’ve seen too many posts about making your own ricotta, queso fresco and now, paneer, that I really have no excuse to delay. It’s cheese time!

  • I love your cinnamon variation! I’ve never tried my hand at cheese-making. You make it seem so easy. Inspiring.

  • This is so impressive that you are making your own paneer! I love the infusion with cinnamon!

  • I would DEFINITELY agree with you! Yummy cheese how I love thee. :) But I must say, I never thought of making my own, which is something to ponder. Your instructions make it sound simple enough…

  • You have taken these things up to a whole new and beautiful level…holiday? I am ready…

    Has anyone told you word verification speaks Irish?

  • […] Daily Spud has an inspiring post up at the moment on paneer cheese: it seems it is not just possible but easy to make exotic Indian cheese at […]

  • The Life of Brian…wasn’t that a parody on the life of Cheeses?

  • good one, i love indian cusine particularly those made with paneer,i will try it

  • blessed are the cheesemakers – amen.

  • Heather: this one is pretty simple and straightforward, do have a go…

    Tangled Noodle: I think I want to go on that Mediterranean holiday too!

    Reeni: thanks and I guess I’m not surprised that the cinnamon variation would appeal to you :)

    Natasha: thanks, it’s certainly worth a try

    Grilled Shane: I think this is something that you need to try…

    Chef E: well, I know that the word verification turns up some, er, interesting phrases, but I didn’t realise it was multi-lingual, lol

    Berna: indeed so, it starred John Cheese as I recall…

    Nadia: welcome! – and if you like Indian cuisine, then this is certainly something to try

    gastroanthropologist: amen to that indeed – speaking of cheese I got some stichelton the other day (having remembered it from your Neal’s Yard post) – absolutely loved it

  • Loooks whey too good to eat? (That Oisin always did have a whey with words)

  • Yummie!! I love paneer. I love paneer with toasted cumin seeds: what real flavour!! Yummie! Great salad! Thanks!

  • I love this!
    I also especially love the whole idea of adding stuff to the paneer… I find myself wondering if you added dried pepper flakes and curdled it with lime juice, how good it would be?
    Might be worth trying!

  • I love paneer and i love that it’s also super easy to make! Yum.

  • mgh: whey hey!

    Sophie: you’re welcome :)

    mike: absolutely worth trying I’d imagine – and thanks for dropping in!

    kickpleat: my sentiments exactly…

  • I have to try my hand at making cheese! This sounds fantastic! I just need to take that first step I guess. You do make it look easy and incredibly tasty. :)

  • I tried to make mozzarella once. This seem more ambitious. Good for you! GREG

  • Lori: well, I think this has got to be the simplest of cheeses to make – it’s definitely worth a try :)

    Greg: gosh, mozzarella sounds more ambitious to me, so good for you, too!

  • If someone ever asked me which one food I would take with me to an isolated island, my answer would definitely be CHEESE! I adore it. And you made me hungry for cheese with these photos. I’ve never tried to make cheese myself, you’re so good at it. Maybe I can learn from you. Thanks.

  • I’ve never attempted to make cheese, but I want to if there’s any chance at all of it turning out like your paneer with toasted cumin seeds. I never realized that paneer was so versatile. Your saag paneer photo, by the way, would be at home quite comfortably in a frame on a gallery wall.

  • Wow, this looks fantastic! I have never made paneer before!!! I might have to try it.

  • Wow, I had no idea paneer was so easy to make. It looks fantastic!

  • zerrin: do give this a try – it’s pretty straightforward and I’m sure you’ll like it!

    Sapuche: why thank you :) it is both versatile and easy to make – I know you can do it…

    sarah: go on, give it a go :)

    gaga: yes, it’s surprisingly easy, definitely worth a try

  • Yum yum yum yum yum. Oh my god I love the idea of a toasted cumin seed paneer. And your salad – awesome idea.

  • I thought it was only taters over here – oh how wrong I was…this paneer dish looks excellent!

  • megan: thanks – I love the cumin seed paneer for curries, it’s just a nice extra touch

    doggybloggy: ah, yes, well, while there is a lot of tater action over here, there’s always a bit of room for other tasty stuff too :)

  • I like the sound of adding spices to the paneer.

  • …and the nice thing about making the paneer yourself is that you can add the spices to complement whatever dish you’re going to add it to.

  • Just stumbled on to your blog through Food & Fizz, the photo liked really yummy so couldn’t resist the temptation to see the post. The age of palak paneer is really loathed these days. Me too made a little change of the original recipe and cooked it this way ( http://bengalicuisine.net/2009/01/07/palak-in-paneer-bowl/ ).
    Loved your site a lot, so adding it to my google reader.

  • Why thanks Sudeshna, so glad you liked it. And I love your spinach cooked in a paneer bowl – looks fab!

  • I like the sound of adding spices to the paneer.Thank`s

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