Parsi homes often serve fresh paneer as a tea time treat.
The word paneer or panir comes from the word "peynir", which means cheese-both in Farsi and Turkish. Although generally considered as typically Indian-northern to be precise-it was the Persians and Afghans who introduced it to the region as far back as the 16th century. While the inhabitants of the mountainous terrain traditionally prepared this cheese from sheep and goat milk, the paneer of India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan is now traditionally prepared from buffalo or cow’s milk.
Paneer, pronounced Puh-nir, is a simple home-made cheese where the curds are separated from the whey. No additives or preservatives are added to prepare this. Warm, soft, creamy, and silky, its texture is dependent on the amount of liquid squeezed out of it and whether it is served freshly prepared or chilled.
Eaten on its own, warm when fresh or chilled the next day, it is also used in a variety of recipes. Most commonly, it is diced and fried to be added to vegetarian dishes like curries and stews. I often use it in my samosa fillings, in quiches, and even in baked cheesecakes. It can be prepared with the addition of other flavours like nuts, herbs, and spices and eaten cut into pieces or as a dip.
Makes 1 wheel of paneer of 500 g/ 1.1 lb
4 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cup yoghurt
1 1/2 tsp salt
Optional: 1/2 a tablespoon of vinegar or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
For the paneer, bring the milk to a boil and continue to boil for 10 minutes—keep stirring to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.
Gently beat the yoghurt with the salt. Add the yoghurt to the boiling milk and lower the heat to a simmer. Wait for the milk to separate. At the first sign of the milk separating, turn the stove off and allow the separation to continue until you can see the whey clearly. In the meantime, prepare a sieve lined with muslin or cheesecloth. Overturn the paneer mixture over the sieve and allow it to drain, hanging the muslin very lightly for a soft cheese and pressing it down with weight to make the texture firmer.
Turn the paneer on to a plate, garnish, and serve.
The addition of an acidic liquid like vinegar or lemon juice is optional and speeds up the separation of the curds and whey.
Dips and cheesecakes are best prepared from soft paneer.
If you like a creamier texture, increase the yoghurt amount to 2 cups.
The choices to flavour your paneer with are endless. Try any of these delightful fresh herbs: coriander, parsley, mint, basil, oregano, chives, tarragon. For a tangy flavour, add olives—pickled vegetables, capers, and cornichons all pair well. Spices like cracked peppercorns, zaatar, sumac, ancho chili, togarashi, and jalapeno are a perfect pairing when pressed onto the paneer and give it a nice zing. A sprinkle of specialty salts—seaweed, saffron, black, pink, or simple rock salt—all impart their unique flavours to the paneer.
Serve with sweet red chilli jam or spicy chilli oil on a charcuterie board. Fig jam, tapenade, and pesto also combine deliciously with this versatile dish.
Special utensils to drain out the paneer and create the round wheel shape are available at specialty stores.
|The three parts of the utensil to make a perfect paneer
|Pressed Paneer; chilled overnight
|An assembled Paneer pan !
The Art of Parsi Cooking; reviving an ancient cuisine.
Also check out my e-cookbook Niloufer's Kitchen Quick: and Easy Menu
Photo credit Sheriar Hirjikaka