There were always these mini wars at home any time my father made palak paneer. No daggers were drawn and unkind words never uttered. This was a silent war. A war where you ensured you were the first person to serve yourself food so you could quietly spoon the most skewed palak paneer ratio into your plate. Nobody noticed this masti was going on until all the paneer was gone and my father decided to be vocal about it.
I think it was Gayle.
Paneer is one of the biggest reasons why I’ve become such a spinach fiend. It’s not the other way around. I just realised how true this is after I typed it. Unlike other Indian households that know the exact doodhwala (dairy, but literally translated to milkman) that makes the softest, pillow-like paneer or provides the milk that can aid you in the process, my family rarely did any of this. Paneer was a once in a while, Sunday sort of thing and that made it even more tantalising. Every time it was stir-fried or dropped in a pot of pureed spinach, Gayle was always the first in line stealing all the paneer.
She’ll say no but don’t believe her.
Which brings me to my new kitchen. There’s an “Indian store” some kilometers away that sells paneer like any good Latin-American run Indian store should. If ever I sum up the courage to walk there, I never forget the cottage cheese. I’m a good Indian girl that way.
Last week I wanted to be the best Indian alive. I wanted to make my own paneer, which if any seasoned Indian cook reads, they’re probably going to laugh in my face. I knew when I saw a bottle of milk from the local dairy, all swirling with the fattiest of fat milk I’ve seen in the West, I had to have it. HAD TO. If you’re ever thinking of attempting this recipe, buying the best milk is a good place to start. It’s so simple, and with a little patience, you can be like your friend’s mother who takes restaurant-like orders for food every morning and when you come home after FROLICKING in the 1000 degree Agra summer there’s a freakin mango milkshake and 10 course meal with paneer you press with your index finger because it’s clearly sent from heaven.
If you have no intention of attempting this recipe, that’s okay too. Just leave a comment in the end that says: “You’re the best Indian alive.” “You’re” meaning me.
I think I’ve earned it.
- 1 litre of whole aka fatty fat milk (4 cups)
- 1- 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
You will also need
Pour the milk into the pot and keep it on medium heat. You will now be waiting for it to come to a slow/gentle boil. As it sits there, keep stirring from time to time with a spoon.
Keep a watchful eye on the pot. It should take about 30 minutes to reach a gentle boil. If you’ve ever seen milk reach its boiling point, it doesn’t just do the sissy bubbling that water does. It will rise right out of the pot and on to the burners. Total anarchy will ensue. When all you were hoping for was a cup of tea, you will have a stove that doesn’t light and a whole mess to clean. If you’re going for gentle boil, you do not want this.
While the milk is going along, keep the cheesecloth ready. It should be big enough to bundle and hang. Place the cheesecloth in a strainer or colander.
As soon as you see tiny bubbles come up to the surface of the milk, add the lemon juice a little bit at a time (a teaspoon would be a good start). You’ll start to see slight curdling of the milk. While doing this, keep stirring slowly. You want the milk to separate. Once it does this, it changes colour. I want to call this change a greenish colour but you might have a different opinion. That’s the milk turning into curd and whey. I have a picture to show you what you’re looking for.
You might require more or less lemon juice than stated in the ingredients as every lemon has a different acid content.
Once it completely separates, stir for 15 seconds more and then strain the curd-whey through the cheesecloth. Rinse the curd under cold water to remove any lemon taste and also to cool it so you can squeeze out the whey before you hang the cheesecloth.
You can add some dried herbs like thyme or oregano before you tie and hang the curd if you want to flavour it. I didn’t do that this time but I will try it the next time.
Tie the cheesecloth (with the curd inside) tight with baker’s twine or some other string and let it hang out for 30 minutes. I tied it from the handle to our microwave. Weirdo. Thirty minutes later, put some weight on the cheesecloth bundle to get rid of any extra whey that’s still in the curds. You don’t want too much weight or your paneer will become too dry. Leave it under the weight for 2 hours.
Untie it and voila, guess what we’ve just created? Perfect palak paneer material, that’s what.
Apart from the spinach, of course.