Homemade cubed cheese is a staple of the North Indian diet, providing much-needed protein for vegetarians. Make a big batch and freeze half of it for use later. It’s great in curries or stuffed in samosas, or fry it up as a snack for the kids after school. Making paneer is not hard, but it takes patience to squeeze out all the moisture.
1. In a heavy-bottomed, 6-quart / 6-L saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk. Bring to a slow boil and reduce the heat to medium–low. Keeping the heat low is important. If the milk boils too fast, it can burn. Stir it slowly and occasionally to ensure it does not stick to the pot. Using a nonstick pot helps.
2. The moment the milk starts to boil and foam starts to rise, reduce the heat to the lowest setting possible and add the buttermilk. As the milk begins to separate, use a small spatula to slowly pull the curds away from the sides of the pan. I like to leave the rest of the curds intact in the middle so that they form a nice solid layer on top of the whey. Stir gently and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the milk separates completely. Some recipes recommend turning the heat off immediately after the milk boils. I find it helps to keep the heat on and continue stirring gently. The milk will start to separate immediately, but you want it to separate completely, which takes an extra few minutes.
3. Once solid-looking curds form and the remaining liquid (whey) looks thin and watery, turn the heat off, cover the pan completely, and allow to cool slightly for 10 to 15 minutes. If you have a gas stove, leave it on the same burner on which you cooked it. If you have an electric stove and if the coils remain hot, remove the pot from the burner. Excessive heat can burn the bottom of the pot.
4. Place a colander in a large mixing bowl and lay a 2½- × 1½-foot / 75- × 45-cm piece of double-lined cheesecloth inside it. Drape the ends of the cheesecloth over the sides of the colander so you can twist them easily. Using a long-handled strainer, gently scoop up pieces of the curds and transfer them to the cheesecloth-lined colander. Continue until you have transferred all of the curds—scrape the bottom of the pan to pick up any remaining curds. I prefer doing this to dumping the entire mixture into the cheesecloth, which can be messy. You can discard the whey, or reserve it to add to curries later. Freeze it if you’re not using it right away. Set the colander aside to allow the curds to cool and slowly drain the remaining liquid for 15 minutes.
5. Gather all sides of the cheesecloth and tie the bundle into a knot as close to the cheese as possible. Squeeze as hard as you can in order to extract as much moisture as possible from the curds. Be careful—the curds may still be hot. When I was younger, my mother would hang the cheesecloth on the faucet all day so that the liquid would slowly drip away into the sink. I press the curds to speed up the process.
6. Remove the paneer from the cheesecloth (discard the cheesecloth) and place it on a large plate. I prefer to use a large, stainless steel Indian thali, which has raised edges that prevent liquid runoff. Place a heavy plate or cutting board on top of the paneer and a heavy pot or flat-bottomed skillet on top of the plate. Next, stack large, heavy unopened cans (I use canned tomatoes) inside the pot. No need to open the cans. They are for stacking only. Keep adding weight if you can keep it balanced—I use up to 15 pounds / 6.8 kg. Set aside to drain for at least 2 to 3 hours.
7. Remove the weights and drain any remaining moisture from the plate containing the paneer. Place the plate in the freezer for 15 minutes. My Yog mamaji (uncle) taught my mom this trick, which helps set the cheese so you can cut it easily later.
8. Using a large, wide spatula, carefully transfer the paneer (now a disc roughly 6 inches / 15 cm wide) from the plate to a cutting board. Cut into 1-inch / 3-cm cubes with a sharp knife or pizza cutter. You can also crumble and store to use later either in curries or as a fun topping for any Indian dish.
9. Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months.
Indian For Everyone by Anupy Singla. Copyright © 2014 Anupy Singla. Published by Agate Publishing. All rights reserved.