Thursday, December 11, 2008

Palak Paneer and Homemade Cheese

Unfortunately there won't be a Friday dinner tomorrow, nor for the next month or so, as I'm going on vacation! I will, however, be eating lots of good food and I'll be bringing my camera with me. :D Depending on computer/time availability, I may be able to blog a bit and share any delectable photos I've got.

Before I go though, I wanted to finally post those Indian recipes I talked about so long ago (or so it seems), as I'm totally behind on that. I got started with raita, but what about what you eat raita with?

One good choice is palak paneer, which is a spinach and fresh cheese (paneer) dish. If you like spinach as I do, it's a nice, safe choice. It's reminiscent of creamed spinach -- just flavorful in an entirely different way. Paneer can be purchased or easily made at home. That's right, make your own fresh cheese at home! It's super easy and not even that time consuming.

All you need is half a gallon of whole milk, 3-4 tablespoons (about 1/4 cup) of acid, such as lemon/lime juice or vinegar, cheesecloth, and a large pot. Instructions are always more fun with visual representation, so here we go (a few of the pics are fuzzy, as I wasn't using my tripod alas):

Bring half a gallon of whole milk (and yes, it needs to be whole milk -- you're making cheese so you want as much of the solids as possible) to boil. When it's boiling, add the lemon juice. Turn down the heat a bit. Start stirring and do this continuously.

Almost immediately, you'll see the curds start to separate from the whey. Keep stirring!

Stir, stir, stir. You'll know it's done when the whey has a light greenish tinge to it. That sounds wrong, but looks perfectly natural when you see it. You should be able to scoop up obvious curds now.

Place a strainer over a large bowl and some cheesecloth in the strainer.

Pour the contents of the pot into the cheesecloth-lined strainer. The curds should stay in the cheesecloth while all the whey goes into the bowl.

Close up! Looks like cottage cheese, doesn't it?

There are multiple ways you can do this next step; go with what's easiest for you. The goal is to drain as much of the whey out of the curds as you can. Here I've tied some kitchen twine tightly around the cheesecloth, and tied the other end to a knob on one of my cupboards. It's hanging over the bowl of whey so that the excess drips in there. You can also tie it over the faucet, or maybe around a long plastic spoon and drape that over a pitcher, etc. Leave this for about 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, unwrap the cheesecloth from the cheese. It'll look something like this.

Put the cheese on a plate and drape the cheesecloth over it. Then put a heavy weight on top, to further squeeze out any remaining whey. The heaviest thing I could think of was a cast-iron pan, so I used two of them. :D

It's been suggested to save the whey for later use, and being that I don't like waste, I saved about 4 cups of it. I still haven't found a recipe that uses whey, but it's in the freezer for when I do.

After another half hour or so, it'll be flattened and look something like this.

Now it's ready to be cubed into whatever Indian dish you're using it in!

Now that wasn't too difficult, was it? Since the cheese hasn't been aged at all, it doesn't have much flavor to it. It really just, as far as I can tell, adds a texture contrast to the dish. In fact, in that way it reminds me of very firm tofu.

Back to the palak paneer. There are many kinds of paneer dishes; I chose spinach because I like it. Go with your preference. The recipe I used is from Show Me the Curry, as I enjoyed their videos and their recipes are very approachable.

The first thing I did was prepare the paneer, though you can wait until you've started the masala, if you like.

Here I've heated about a tablespoon of oil and have dropped cubes of paneer into it. Paneer is one of the few cheeses that doesn't melt! Your goal is to get them nice and brown.

They're just starting to brown, so I stir fry them a bit to get as much of the cheese's surface area exposed to the pan as possible.

When the paneer has been browned (on all sides if possible), drop the cubes into a bowl of cold water. This will help get out some of the excess oil. It will also soften the cheese. The paneer can stay in the water until you're ready to add it to the rest of the ingredients. At that point you'll want to gently squeeze out any excess water from them.

This paneer has been browned, soaked, and dried, and is ready to be added to the dish! As you can see, not all the paneer has been perfectly browned; just do the best you can and when most of them are browned just pull them from the heat. You don't want them to burn.

First thing that goes into the pan is some oil, along with the pureed onion.

Next should be the pureed tomatoes. Don't skip pureeing them (as I did) unless you're okay with bits of red standing out in your palak paneer. I thought the diced tomato would melt into the mixture eventually; it didn't do so completely.

Add the spinach. It's also instructed for the spinach to be blended using a hand blender; I was lazy and skipped that step, since the chopped spinach is already pretty much falling apart. I imagine blending it would make the final dish even creamier.

The spices go in next. Generally I like to measure out all the amounts of spices ahead of time.

Now the dish should be looking something like this. See how the tomatoes don't completely melt in? Next time I'll be pureeing them for sure.

Add the cream/milk. Mmm, creamy curry goodness.

Finally, when you're about ready to serve, add the paneer. Since the dish is already fully cooked, you don't need to cook this step for very long, as mixing too much will just make the paneer fall apart.

Serve with rice or your choice of Indian bread. Delicious!

Palak Paneer (recipe found here, with some changes by me for clarification)

  • 16oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 7oz paneer
  • 3 tbsp oil, divided
  • 2 medium onions, minced or pureed
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 large tomatoes or 1 14oz can of diced tomatoes, pureed (not canned tomato puree)
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • red chili powder, to taste
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • milk, to taste (optional)


  1. Cook frozen spinach with 1/2 cup water in a microwave safe dish for 7-8 minutes, stirring in between. Blend cooked spinach to desired texture (avoid over-blending).
  2. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a medium non-stick pan on high heat. Once oil is hot, add in the minced onions, stir, cover and let it cook for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add in the ginger and garlic and mix. Cook for another 4-5 minutes.
  4. Add in the tomates, cover and cook until the oil separates from the mixture. Stir often to keep the mixture from burning.
  5. While the onion and tomato mixture is cooking, cube the paneer to your desired size. In a non-stick frying pan, heat the remaining 1 tbsp oil. Once oil is hot, add in the paneer cubes and let them cook till they are golden brown on all sides. Remove from the pan into a plate with paper towel to soak the excess oil. In a couple of minutes, pour the paneer into a bowl of cold water. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
  6. When the onion and tomato mixture is ready, add in the blended spinach and mix.
  7. Add the garam masala, cumin powder, coriander powder, salt, chili powder and turmeric powder. Mix well and cook for 3-5 minutes.
  8. Add in the desired amount of cream and/or milk. Mix and cook for another few minutes.
  9. Gently squeeze the water out of the paneer and add the paneer to the spinach mixture.
  10. Stir gently and serve hot.

1 comment:

Trupti said...

This is a favorite of mine....Palak Paneer is wonderful, especially with homemade Paneer! I use leftover whey in chapatis and parathas....I use the whey instead of water to knead the makes them really soft.

cheers, ts