Paneer is the Indian cheese found in such eponymous dishes as palak paneer (spinach and paneer) and matar paneer (peas and paneer). Making paneer cheese is actually quite easy. All you need is milk (local of course), lemons, vinegar, and cheesecloth. Paneer needs time to sit, though, so make it the day before you want to serve it.
When I first learned to make paneer, I quickly found out that whole milk makes cottage cheese, not firm cubes. Skim milk makes the firmest cubes, but doesn’t have much taste. I like 1% milk for this. Also, paneer is a great use for milk of suspect freshness.
You will need at least 6 or 7 lemons and 4 Tb of rice wine vinegar. (Don’t skimp on the lemons, and vinegar is the insurance.)
I boil water in a short 2-gallon stockpot and make a double boiler with a big stainless steel mixing bowl. (I much prefer this to boiling milk directly on the heat, as I always, always scorch it. Ed. note: scorched milk is a bitch to clean.)
Heat one and one half gallon of 1% milk in the double boiler and add a few pinches of cardamom (or other spice of your choice). While it’s heating, juice and strain all lemons, and mix with vinegar in a glass. Set aside.
Heat milk until bubbles come to the surface. Once you see bubbles for 4 to 5 minutes then pour in lemon/vinegar mixture. Reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes.
And what about the binder clips? Well, let me tell you about the latest use of the greatest technological achievement of our times. I use 4 binder clips to hold cheesecloth in a colander the cheese gets drained through, thus solving the need to scrape cheese out of the bottom of the sink and pretend that nothing happened. (Is there a Nobel Prize for home-cheese-making?)
Remove from heat and strain SLOWLY through cheesecloth. Ideally there will be thick cheese on the bottom and a runny rice-pudding-like substance on the top.
Use a rubber spatula to remove as much as the solids left in the mixing bowl as possible and add to the colander. Allow curds and whey to sit, and allow the whey to drain slowly through the cheesecloth. You can save the whey and use it in bread, soup, or as a nasty science project in the back of the fridge. (Ahem.)
Once there are only moist solids left in the colander (you can hasten the process by gently disturbing the cheese at the bottom of the cheese product), remove binder clips, bring corners of cheesecloth together. and tie them tightly together or with a string. Attach a string to a hook or cupboard over the sink and hang the cheese, allowing liquid to drip into the sink (or a large bowl).
When cheese stops dripping, put the cheese on a couple paper towels on a plate. Stick it in the refrigerator with another plate on top to press even more moisture out of the cheese.
Slice and fry in butter, baby.
-no egrets and goldlentil