Paneer is a very common Indian cheese. It is very firm and not melty at all. It is typically used as the main ingredient in curry or vegetable dishes and is so very delicious as it kind of takes on the flavors of what it cooks in (much like tofu). It literally has three ingredients and only takes about an hour to come together. I typically make mine on a Saturday or Sunday for use later in the week.
For this recipe, I’m going to use it in a Saag Paneer (also known as Paneer Palak). This is a savory, mildly creamy spinach dish filled with big chunks of lightly fried cheese. I typically serve it with basmati rice and some naan (homemade or store bought) . If you make your paneer over the weekend, you can have this meal on the table in less than half an hour.
If you are lucky enough to have an Indian or Asian grocery nearby, you could totally use store bought paneer. It’s very good, but there’s something so satisfying about making your own. Also, this recipe calls for ghee. This is a shelf stable clarified butter that is commonly used in Indian and middle eastern cuisines. It sounds really exotic but I’ve seen it at ALL of my local supermarkets lately. You’ll find it near the coconut oils and other less common oils. It lasts for quite a while on the shelf, but if you are concerned, it will last a lot longer in your refrigerator.
One Gallon Whole Milk 1/2 C lemon juice (you likely won’t need all of it) Coarse Kosher Salt to taste (I used maybe 1 T) Cheese Cloth (I promise most supermarkets have it, you may have to ask for help to find it though!)
Using a candy thermometer if you have one, bring milk to a very low simmer over medium heat until it reaches 195F. It will be very foamy on top. You’ll want to stir it a lot but not scrape the bottom of your pot much as the milk on the bottom may scald and you don’t want those burned bits in your cheese. Once it reaches 195F, remove it from heat and let it cool for 5-10 minutes.
Gradually stir in the lemon juice a little at a time until curds start to form. When it is separated into lots of milk curds and the leftover clear liquid (whey), stop adding the lemon juice and allow to cool for another 20 minutes or so in the pot.
After 20 minutes, line a colander with a couple of pieces of cheese cloth (cut it big as you’ll be wringing this out in a little while). Slowly strain curds through cheese cloth and allow to drain in your sink for 10-15 minutes. When it’s drained, wring out one time and then allow to sit in the cheese cloth draining for another 15-20 minutes. Taste and mix in a little salt with your hands. Using the cheese cloth to help, shape the curds in to a ball and then flatten into a disk. Gently fold the cheese cloth around your cheese disk (you don’t want to end up with big creases in your cheese) and place between two plates as shown in the photos. Place on a baking sheet in your refrigerator with a large weight (an iron skillet works great here) for at least an hour. After an hour, poke it with your finger and if it’s not super wet and doesn’t crumble, it’s done. Otherwise, leave it in there a bit longer.
When finished, remove wet cheese cloth and wrap in a fresh piece of cheese cloth. Store in the refrigerator in a zippered plastic bag until ready to use later in the week.
Now, you are ready to use that paneer for something REALLY good. So let’s make our saag paneer!
Saag Paneer (also known as Paneer Palak)
1 block of paneer, cubed 1 lb fresh spinach (usually TWO of those bags from the produce department), chopped Ghee and/or vegetable oil, divided 1/2 medium onion, sliced thin 1 jalapeno pepper, diced 1 C diced fresh or canned tomatoes, drained 1 clove garlic, minced 1 inch fresh ginger, grated (or 1 T ginger paste from the tubes in the produce department) 1 t ground cumin 1 T garam masala 1 t turmeric 1 t ground coriander 1/4 t cayenne pepper water 1/3 C plain yogurt 1 T butter, room temperature Coarse kosher salt to taste
Mix dry spices together in a small bowl. Toss your paneer cubes with about 1 T of the spice mixture reserving the rest of the spices for later.
Heat ghee or oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Working in batches, fry seasoned paneer cubes, turning until brown and slightly crispy on all sides. Add a little more ghee as needed. As they finish, remove to a plate and reserve for later.
When all paneer is browned and out of the pan, add another 1 T ghee to pot if there’s not much oil left. Add onions and saute until just translucent. Add jalapeno, garlic and ginger and saute for another minute. Stir in reserved spice mixture and cook until very fragrant, about one minute. Add in spinach and about 1/2 C water tossing and stirring until wilted. Add in tomatoes and bring to a very light simmer. Add a little more water if it looks a little dry. Cover and cook about 5 minutes. Remove cover and, if desired, use your immersion blender to puree about a third of the mixture. Stir in reserved paneer and yogurt and simmer until spinach has darkened in color a bit. Off heat, stir in butter.
Taste and add salt as needed. Serve with warm naan and basmati rice.
On another note, y’all, this is my 100th post! Thank you so much for supporting me over these last four years! I hope you’ll continue to follow me and let me know how my recipes work for you! I love hearing from all of you.