I made cheese. Yeah, I actually made it. I never thought of myself as the “cheese-making” kind of person before, but now that I’ve gone off the deep end into the world of do-it-yourself I don’t know if I can pull myself back.
The problem (or solution depending on how you look at it) with learning to cook things that you normally would buy, is that once you do it you realize how much better (and cheaper) it is. My case in point is mattar paneer. I love, love, love Indian food. I used to have it fairly regularly because there was a great Indian restaurant not too far from my house. And then it closed (sob). There are other Indian restaurants in the Rochester-area, but they are just far enough away that any takeout you pick up is lukewarm by the time you get home. (Oh how I envy my friends in NYC with takeout/delivery places on every corner!)
I really wanted some good Indian food. And I didn’t want an hour drive (round trip) to get it. And then I remembered my Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. Moosewood is a (mostly) vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, NY. Every Sunday they cook foods from one particular ethnic cuisine. This cookbook is like a primer into international cooking, a gateway into stretching yourself beyond the cuisine you grew up with. And there it was, on page 297: how to make your own paneer.
And so I did it. I made cheese. I thought it would take a million ingredients and a ton of steps, but all you do is heat up some milk, add lemon juice, and you’ve got cheese curds. It almost feels like magic. Now, if you want paneer you still need to press the curds into a block, but that’s not too difficult. I guess I can look at the closing of my favorite restaurant as a blessing in disguise, because I never would have pushed myself into new culinary territory if it hadn’t.
- 1/2 gallon whole milk
- 2 lemons
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 Tablespoon ground coriander
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil (or ghee if you feel like making it!)
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne (depending on how hot you like it)
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 28 ounces canned tomatoes, crushed
- 1 pound frozen peas
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1/2 cup water
- garam masala powder & chopped cilantro (optional)
- cooked rice
- Get yourself ready for cheese-making: Juice the lemons. Strain the juice. Set the juice and a Tablespoon measurer next to your stove. Line a colander with two layers of wet cheesecloth and set it in your sink. Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap.
- Heat the milk in a large pot until it reaches a rolling boil (make sure to stir often so that you don’t scorch the milk). Remove from heat and add 3 Tablespoons of lemon juice. Return the pot to low heat and stir gently. Curds should appear in about 30 seconds; if they don’t add another Tablespoon of lemon juice.
- Once the curds appear, remove from heat and strain the curds in the prepared colander. Let it drain and cool for about 15 minutes. Gather up the cheesecloth into a ball and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
- Set the cheesecloth and curds into the prepared loaf pan. Use a rubber spatula to press the curds out into an even layer. Remove the plastic wrap (with the cheesecloth & pressed curds) from the loaf pan and set on a cutting board. Wrap the cheesecloth & plastic wrap around the curds. Fill the loaf pan with water. Set the cutting board in your fridge and place the water-filled loaf pan on top to press the curds. Leave it in your fridge for at least 30 minutes. (You can leave it that way for up to 1 day; the longer you press the curds, the firmer the cheese.)
- Blend the garlic, coriander, and 1 of the onions into a paste. Set aside.
- In a large saute pan heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the remaining onion, bay leaves, and ginger. Cook until the onions are softened (about 5 minutes).
- Add the garlic/onion paste, turmeric & cayenne and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, peas, yogurt, and water. Add salt to taste. Bring to a simmer. Let it simmer away while you do the next step.
- Take the pressed curds (now paneer!) out of the fridge and cut into cubes. Heat 1/4 cup of vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the paneer until golden brown on each side.
- Gently stir the fried paneer into the tomato/peas mixture. Let it simmer for 10 minutes.
- Serve the mattar paneer over cooked rice and garnished with garam masala and chopped cilantro.