I was lucky enough to have J, T and H over a few weeks ago for an Indian dinner party. J came over early to talk to me while I prepared....or so he thought. Little did he know that he was to be my naan-man. I put him to work after two sips of wine. He was rolling out naan dough like a pro with a pint glass (still don't have a rolling pin). The tricky part about making naan at my house is that for some reason, my pizza stone smokes of there isn't any sort of food item on it in the hot oven, which you have to do to prepare. So we opened the oven, tossed in the first set. The pizza stone and the smoke alarm were co-conspiring for attention. I jumped up on the couch with a placemat to quiet the screech. All was fine. We opened all the windows and my front door. Ok. Loud noise averted. We grabbed a few bites of cucumber and dip.
The air was still calm. I then opened the oven to get the naan out. Beeeeep. This time J jumped up on the foot stool fanning the alarm. He slowly got down and helped with rolling more naan. One set down. Three to go. A sip of wine. An apricot and and almond taste.
The semi-calmness, expontentially went up in smoke. I opened the oven about five more times before J just stationed himself on the foot stool with the place mat, fanning the alarm. Then there was me, sweating, opening the oven door to quickly throw in the naan or scoop it out. The room was Bikram hot. We were in tears laughing and screaming at the same time. This was the scene when H and T arrived. Needless to say, the white wine began flowing to cool us down.
As the pictures depict, we added more and more food to the table and more and more eye-popping-table-grabbing-mouth-covering stories. By the end of the night, we were laughing so hard at ourselves I literally felt like I had gone to a hot yoga class.
But this post is supposed to be about Paneer...the cheese you see featured in many an Indian dish. It sort of looks like tofu from afar...but for those of you anti-tofu...fear not. It is good old fashioned dairy. And it is so satisfying to make your own, which by the way is super easy. So if you have ever bought a giant container of milk and know you won't use all of it, now you have something to do with it. Make cheese!
You can certainly buy Paneer at Indian grocery stores. But it is so satisfying to make your own. Pictured above is the cheese cloth in the strainer over a large pot set up you will read about in the instructions below. I was lucky enough to meet Nabia of Food I Make and assister her in a cooking class. Her blog is my resource for good authentic Indian food.
The short of it is this. You simply boil the ingredients below. Let them curdle. Strain in a cheese cloth. Wrap. Refrigerate. Cut into cubes and saute.
Adapted from Nabia's Food I Make Blog and the Hindi Bindi Club Book
If you have leftover milk that you know you will throw away in a few days, make cheese instead. Or buy yourself a half gallon and start anew. Either way, use good quality brands. There is nothing better than homemade cheese to toss into your favorite dish, or just snack on. Just as an aside, this is a special occasion type food to make, so use the full fat version of every ingredient...and split the dish with someone else. It is much more rewarding and authentic to make it as it should be. Eat your veggies on the side.
1/2 gallon whole milk (use good quality local, hormone-free if you can)
1 cup heavy cream (same as above, good quality local hormone-free)
1 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt + 1 cup water to dilute it (mix yogurt and water together to make a nice even mixture)
Cheese cloth (enough to line the inside of a strainer with two layers)
Ok let's begin! Pull out a large heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven. Pour in the milk and cream. Slowly bring to a soft boil. This step took awhile for mine because the milk and cream were very cold to start with. So if you remember, take them out 30 minutes prior, to get the chill off.
Back to the soft boil. Stir the milk often so it doesn't burn. Once the boil happens, lower the heat to low. It is time to add the yogurt now. The curdling should happen fairly quickly. Slowing pour the diluted yogurt mixture in a thin stream into the milk and cream, meanwhile stirring with your spare hand.
As it begins to curdle, the whey (the liquid part) will turn a little grey. Once you have achieved curdling, turn the heat off and let the pot sit for 10 minutes. While you are waiting, prepare the cheesecloth. Put two layers of cheesecloth on top of each other into a strainer. Put the strainer over a large pot. This will catch all the curds in the cheesecloth and the whey will drain out.
After the 10 minutes is up, carefully pour your curds and whey through the cheese cloth. Let as much whey drain out as possible. The liquid will still be hot, so once it cools a little, gather the cheese cloth around the curds and squeeze out any excess water. Shape this into a circular disk. Put the disk back in a strainer over a smaller bowl and put something heavy on top of it. I put a plate on top and then a new unopened container of broth. Place this cheese contraption into the fridge, preferably over night.
The next day, you will open this little package to find a very sturdy disk of paneer. Slice it into small cubes and saute and add to any dish you like. I made saag paneer, which was a great addition to the Indian feast.