Oh sumptuous paneer! White blocks of creamy and tangy goodness that add bounce to your bite and fill you with delight. Just a mention of paneer and a host of curries instantly and deliciously swim into mind; creamy and rich saag paneer, hot and fire-filled chilli paneer, or fresh and feisty mattar paneer… mmmm, the list goes on. And although in the west such a cheese is often associate with goat’s milk, the truth is that in India we make it with whatever milk is at hand (traditionally the family water buffalo!).
While it really couldn’t be simpler to make: You take fresh milk and heat it up, before adding some form of food acid (eg. lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar). This process separates the curd from the whey, which are then drained before being pressed for roughly 2-3 hours. This last step is what really gives paneer its distinctive texture and appearance, and check out these detailed steps below:
How to make paneer
Before making your friends a truly delicious paneer recipe, we need a little something extra to make their jaws drop in awe, and for them to begin showering you with well-deserved praise; “What?” they say, “you made the paneer yourself as well?!” Yes, home-made paneer is an impressive (yet deceivingly simple) preparation sure to wow any dinner-time guest, and once you’ve learned these simple steps you’ll find it less effort to cook some up than to go down to the supermarket and buy some!
2 litres/3½ pints best quality organic whole milk
200-250ml/7-8¾fl oz fresh ‘live’ yoghurt, or 2 tbsp lemon juice
Step 1 – Using a heavy-based saucepan, bring your milk to the boil while stirring regularly. Once it has begun to boil, add your lemon juice or yoghurt.
Step 2 – Keep the pan on the heat and stir gently to make the milk curdle. This will only take you around one minute. If it does not separate, add more yoghurt or lemon juice. Once the curds have coagulated and are distinctly separate from the whey, take the pan off the heat. A quick tip from my gran – the separated water should almost look pale white and have non of the milky white colour of milk.
Step 3 – Pour the contents of the pan through a colander lined with clean muslin, yet keep a pan under the colander to collect the whey (you can use this to make extra-fluffy chapatis instead of normal water).
Step 4 – Wrap the paneer curds in the muslin and hang it from the tap over the sink. This way the excess water will continue to drain. Leave it for twenty minutes like this, and place a heavy weight on top for an hour, or until the paneer is flattened into a firm block. My gran usually used the stone mortar-pestle from the kitchen, but a heavy saucepan would do just fine.
You now have your very own paneer cheese, and can serve it up in any of the incredible dishes listed above!
Popular Indian recipes using paneer
Who would’ve thought… so much flavour and joy for such a simple process? These are of course only the basic steps though, and different regions will treat their paneer in different ways during the process. However the most important treatments to the paneer are applied in the frying pan, cooking it with simmering spices and greens that make you drool longingly, so read on below for our authentic paneer recipes for mutter paneer, palak paneer, and chilli paneer!
Palak Paneer Recipe
Palak paneer… is ever a curry night complete without it? The spinach adds rich and savoury depth, while the smooth paneer absorbs all the surrounding flavours and rounds off every bite. This is one of our favourite dishes, and the version below is in an extra creamy style typical to punjabi regions of India.
2 cups paneer cubes
6 cups washed and chopped spinach (palak) leaves
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 cup fresh cream
1/4 cup finely chopped tomatoes
1/4 tsp black salt
2 tsp oil
1 tsp butter
salt to taste
For the white gravy (optional):
1 cup sliced onions
3 tbsp cashewnuts (kaju)
1 tbsp melon seeds (charmagaz)
2 green chillies
First, make the white gravy:
Step 1 – Take all the ingredients and simmer them together with one cup of water for roughly quarter of an hour. Once cooled, blend it into a smooth sauce and set aside.
To make the saag paneer (palak paneer):
Step 2 – Bring four cups of salted water to the boil and cook the spinach leaves briefly so that they soften (roughly one minute). Do not overcook them so that they lose their wonderful colour. Drain and then blend them into smooth puree.
Step 3 – Next place a pan on medium heat and add the oil and butter, then the garlic, ginger and tomatoes.
Step 4 – Saute until the tomato sauce begins to separate from the oil, and then add the white gravy, spinach and salt.
Step 5 – Proceed to stir for about a minute before then adding the paneer, dried fenugreek leaves, garam masala and cream and bring to a boil.
Serve immediately with a few chopped fresh red chillies, and a good dollop of our Smelly Garlic Pickle. This recipe is adapted from Tarla Dalal, whose palak paneer recipe you can find here. She is the household goddess in India, and the go-to source for all things culinary among Indian home-cooks!
Chilli Paneer Recipe
Chilli paneer is a popular dish with Indo-Chinese influences. And what does Indo-Chinese mean exactly? Well, for one thing it doesn’t mean that it resembles authentic Chinese cooking in the least! Instead it is an example of a number of Indian dishes that have absorbed a few Chinese techniques and ingredients and corrupted them into something a bit more spiced and to our liking… They usually consist of deep-fried ingredients coated in hot and garlicky thick gravies, which are hot, addictive and so very very good. And this dish, chilli paneer, is certainly no exception:
2tbsp vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves
1.5cm fresh ginger
1 red onion
1 red pepper
2 green bird’s eye chillies
2 tbsp shop-brought chilli-garlic sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
2 finely sliced spring onions to garnish
2 tbsp rice flour
2 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp kashmiri chilli powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp smooth garlic paste
200 gm paneer, sliced into long pieces
Step 1- In a bowl, mix 40ml water with all the batter ingredients. Toss the paneer cubes in to coat evenly.
Step 2- Heat enough oil for deep-frying to 170C and fry the paneer in batches for only 20-30 seconds so that they have a nice light-brown coating on all sides.
Step 3- Make the sauce by adding oil to a pan on medium heat, and frying garlic and ginger for 20 seconds. Then add the onion and fry for two minutes, and then add the pepper and chillies and fry them for another two minutes.
Step 4- Add all the soy sauce, chilli-garlic sauce, tomato ketchup and sugar and stir well. Add 40ml of hot water to slightly thin out the sauce.
Step 5- Finally add the fired paneer cubes and fold gently to make sure that all the pieces are coated evenly. Season to taste, garnish with the chopped spring onions and serve with simple Pulao rice.
Then enjoy with a side of wild-wild veggies pickle or, for the garlic-mega-enthusiast, a bit of smelly garlic! This chilli paneer recipe is an absolute bomb of flavour and texture. We adapted the recipe from Maunika Gowardhan’s fabulous Indian Kitchen, a truly authentic tome of home-style Indian cooking. Make sure to check it out.
Mutter paneer Recipe
If any two ingredients in the world are made for each other, it’s surely paneer and peas. The fresh taste of the garden in every pea combines perfectly with the creamy richness of paneer. Then as if that weren’t enough, Indian mutter paneer goes another step and adds cream and milk, to create a sight as rich and wonderful as the sun setting over a summer vegetable patch.
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp cumin seeds powder
1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
2 1/2 cups paneer cubes
3/4 cup boiled green peas
2 tbsp butter
2 cups fresh tomato purée
1/4 cup fresh cream
1/4 cup milk
salt to taste
Grind to a paste:
2 tsp roughly chopped ginger
5 to 6 garlic cloves
4 tbsp broken cashewnuts (preferably soaked in warm water for 10 minutes)
1 cup roughly chopped onions
dash of water
Step 1 – Heat your butter in a pan on medium heat, add the prepared paste and cook for 1 to 2 minutes while stirring often.
Step 2 – In a small bowl mix the garam masala, chilli powder and cumin powder with a dash of water to make a paste. Add this paste with the dried fenugreek leaves to the pan and continue to cook on medium flame for 1 minute. My mum always suggests mixing the dry spices with a little water before adding them to a hot pan – this eliminates any chances of burning the spices.
Step 3 – Next add the salt and tomato puree, and cook for two minutes, stirring and mixing well.
Step 4 – Reduce the heat on the pan and ddd the milk and fresh cream and cook for two to three minutes while stirring constantly. Another top tip from our family kitchen – always reduce the heat on the pan before adding any milk product to your curry, this reduced the chances of curdling.
Step 5 – Finally, the stars of the show, our paneer and peas are chucked in the mix and allow them to heat up and cook for two minutes.Season to taste and ta-da! Deliciously creamy mutter-paneer ready to be served.
Serve piping hot with chapati, roti or fresh naan, and a side of Messy Mango Pickle.
Ever made your own paneer before…. how did it go? Or have you got any recipes that you think we missed, or trips to make yours that little bit even cheekier? Let us know in the comments below!