If you think making cheese sounds too tricky, paneer is the DIY cheese for you. It really is that easy, and it only calls on two ingredients.
“This unsalted white cheese is an absolutely basic Indian foodstuff, and you might think it takes hours to prepare. Not so. You can make a block of fresh paneer in just forty minutes,” says Anjum Anand, who shows how it’s done in her TV series Indian Food Made Easy. And half of that time involves no effort on your part, as you leave the cheese to drain and press.
Making paneer is doubly rewarding, too – there’s the satisfaction of making your own cheese, and then there are endless possibilities for turning it into sweet and savoury dishes.
“Paneer is a blank canvas, so there are many ways to use it, in fact, it takes to all flavours,” Anand says when we chat to the busy TV host, cookbook author and businesswomen (she’s also the driving force behind the Spice Tailor brand).
“As well as grilling marinated cubes, we use cubes in a curry often along with some vegetables. The most famous pairings are with peas (mutter paneer) or with spinach (saag paneer). We also break cubes up and scramble them with some onions, tomatoes, coriander and simple spicing.”
You can also turn it into everything from Anand’s vibrant paneer and chutney rolls, or even sweet cheese desserts.
“It has a fresh farmer’s cheese like quality and a dense, crumbly texture that works wonderfully with the spices of India but equally well with flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of quality olive oil. It is full of virtues; it is a great source of protein, packed with vitamins and minerals and so tasty that even hardened carnivores find it hard to pass up a well-made paneer dish,” Anand says of her paneer recipe.
Here’s how to join the paneer party:
The basic cheese
You need only two ingredients for Anand’s simple paneer: milk plus yoghurt or lemon juice. The milk is brought to a boil, and then yoghurt or lemon juice is added to create the curds. It’s then strained and pressed to create a block of paneer. “You can serve it any way you like but one of my favourites is to marinate it in a delicious sauce of herbs and yoghurt, wrap it up in foil and cook it on the barbecue until hot and steaming,” says Anand. Her recipe guides you through making paneer and also includes that flavour-packed marinade.
You can store the plain un-marinated paneer in water in the fridge for up to a week or freeze it.
Try other milk
You can also make paneer with other kinds of milk – try Peter Kuruvita’s recipe for goat’s milk paneer or this version by Mitch Humphries using buffalo milk, if you’re lucky enough to be able to get your hands on some.
Simple paneer skewers
Once you’ve made your cheese, there are endless options for using it in dishes. In Indian Food Made Easy, Anand turns her freshly made paneer into tandoori vegetable skewers. “Paneer is a joy to grill,” she says.
Another barbecue option: Ross Dobson’s blackened paneer skewers with fresh tomato relish.
Paneer pairs perfectly with various greens. Try it in a vibrant North Indian palak paneer – this version pairs soft paneer with spinach, tomato and cream.
You can ring the changes in Matthew Evans’ take on saag paneer, using whatever greens you have to hand – spinach, kale and beet tops are some options. The spice level, too, is up top you. “We tone it down a bit in the spice department at Fat Pig, because that way it marries well with our other dishes. You can spike it up more with extra chilli and garam masala, especially if making a full Indian meal,” he suggests.
Street food star
Discover the appeal of fried paneer - it goes wonderfully golden on the outside and soft on the inside - in these Mumbai Frankies, a popular Indian street food.
It's also the star in Anjum Anand's kathi rolls, another take on the same street food favourite. "Different places have their own versions and there are no strict rules: as long as a soft bread (with a slight chew) envelopes a fresh, hot, tangy filling with red onions for crunch, you are in the right zone and in for a treat," she says. Her recipe marinates paneer in a mixture of yoghurt, herbs and spices, and pairs the fried cheese with homemade wraps, served up with a vibrant green chutney.
Rajwant Kaur Sandhu’s dish of paneer, potato, capsicum and spices is ready in well under an hour, for a hearty and vibrant meal.
A salad twist
“My daughter loves quinoa in salads. I'm continuously experimenting to introduce Indian food in quinoa-fied form and this one has been on rotation for a while. Though it looks like a dry curry, it is more like a salad,” says Kulsum Kunwa of her curried red quinoa, pea and paneer salad. “I also throw in whatever I might have on hand, like shaved asparagus, tomatoes, sliced red onions, arugula [rocket] or even roasted cauliflower.”
Various twists on the basic idea of paneer – turning milk into curd cheese – also pop up in sweet recipes, such as these paneer balls in saffron sugar syrup (rasgulla). Allow a few extra hours for this; it’s mostly hands-off time, as the paneer balls are cooked and refrigerated in a sweet syrup for several hours, so they go deliciously sticky.
This is an easy, delicious Indian recipe for kadhai paneer that uses cottage cheese and vegetables with mild spices, stir-fried gently. It’s delicious for both kids and adults.
This dish has everything: flavour and crunch! It's a really filling vegetarian meal.
A popular dish in northern India are cubes of paneer, a fresh cheese made from cow or buffalo’s milk, that have been marinated in pickling spices (achari masala) and then fried, grilled or cooked in the tandoor. Achar means ‘to pickle’ and the spices that are used – fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds and coriander seeds – are often also used to flavour curries. Here the achari-coated paneer is combined with a chicken curry to create a spicy dish that is perfect for winter.
While a much-loved favourite in Tibet, these dumplings are also found in Nepal, Bhutan and bordering regions of India. Although styles vary from meat to vegetarian, fried and steamed, several elements are common: a spicy sauce for dipping and more-ish flavour. These momos are filled with mushrooms (shamu), as well as potatoes and paneer, which we’ve used as a substitute for chura, a local Tibetan cheese.
I was delighted to learn the secret of this beautiful green dish – and how to keep it green as well (by blanching the spinach, pureeing it and then cooking it only briefly in the finished dish). Instead of pureeing the spinach, you can chop it to achieve a more textured dish typically served in Indian homes. You can also substitute frozen spinach for fresh – and that’s already chopped! Paneer (firm Indian cottage cheese) is now available in supermarkets.