Paneer is a mild Indian cottage cheese that can be prepared at home as well as bought at stores in the form of blocks or cubes. Paneer is prepared by adding either lemon juice or vinegar to hot milk to separate the curdsfrom the whey. The curds are drained in a muslin cloth and the excess water is pressed out. It is then dipped in chilled water for 2–3 hours to improve its texture and solidify. It has to be then stored in a freezer to retain its form, if not being used immediately.
Some people simply love the soft, fluffy texture of this Indian cheese in grilled items as well as curries while there are others who dismiss it as ‘tasteless’, compared with other cheeses. The fact is, one has to cultivate a taste for paneer to be able to enjoy it in its multiple forms in Indian cuisine as well as in Pakistani cuisine (especially in Peshawar) and Bangladeshi cuisine (especially in Dhaka, where it is called Ponir).
Widely used in traditional Indian cuisine, paneer is often used for dishes as a substitute for non-vegetarian fare. You can enjoy ‘butter paneer masala’ instead of ‘butter chicken’ or ‘paneer tikka’ skewers instead of ‘chicken tikka’, even scrambled paneer to resemble scrambled eggs. Paneer is also used in many Indian versions of vegetarian Chinese dishes.
When you want to take a sabbatical from non-vegetarian food, yet enjoy the same flavours associated with some all-time favourites, paneer is the ideal substitute you are looking for! Given here are three popular paneer dishes that will make forget non-vegetarian food:
1tsp schezwan sauce
½ cup water
1 cup paneer cube
oil for frying
3cm piece ginger – minced
2 green chillies – slit
2 spring onions – chopped fine
½ capsicum – chopped
2tbsp soy sauce
First, season the paneer cubes at room temperature with pepper, salt, and schezwan sauce. The add the flour and water and mix well so that all the cubes get a smooth coating. Heat oil in a pan and fry the coated paneer cubes until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
In a large wok, heat 3tsp oil and saute garlic, ginger and green chillies on high flame. Then add spring onion (reserve some of the green portion for garnish) and saute on high flame for 1 minute. Add capsicum and continue to saute till it slightly changes colour. Add 2 schezwan sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and salt. Mix well and saute for a minute. Prepare a cornflour slurry with 2tsp corn flour and ¼ cup of water, and add. Cook till the gravy slightly thickens and turns glossy. Now add the fried paneer and mix gently, making sure the sauce has coated all pieces uniformly. Transfer the schezwan paneer to a serving bowl and garnish with reserved spring onion greens. Serve with fried rice.
400g paneer – cut into big cubes
2 onions – minced
1 tomato – minced
1 cup tomato puree
2tbsp cashewnuts – soaked in ¼ cup warm water
2tbsp fresh cream
1tsp cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1tbsp ginger-garlic paste
¼tsp turmeric powder
1tsp cumin powder
1tsp garam masala powder
2tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
2ts coriander powder
1tbsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
Salt – to taste
Soak the cashew nuts in warm water for 10 minutes. Blend the soaked cashews into a smooth paste and transfer to a bowl. Heat butter in a large pan on medium flame. Once the butter has melted, add the cumin seeds and bay leaf, and let the cumin seeds sizzle. To this, add ginger-garlic paste, chopped onions and saute for 2-3 minutes, until the onions turn translucent. Add the tomato and let it cook till soft. Then add the cumin powder, Kashmiri red chilli powder, turmeric powder, garam masala powder, coriander powder and mix well. Stir the spices for a few seconds and then add in the tomato puree and cashew paste. Cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat until the gravy thickens and the tomato and cashews combine well along with the spices to form a creamy gravy. Add ½ cup water and cook for a minute if the gravy thickens fast. Stir in the paneer slices, kasuri methi, and honey and simmer for another 5 minutes. Adjust the salt and spices in the gravy to suit your taste. Once done, stir in the cream into the gravy and serve hot.
150g thick yogurt
1tbsp ginger-garlic paste
2tbsp mustard oil
2tsp coriander powder
1tsp chaat masala
1tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
1tsp garam masala
½tsp red chilli powder
1tsp kasuri methi
Juice of 1 lemon
2tbsp chopped cilantro
2tbsp chopped mint
300g paneer slices or cubes
1 large onion – chopped to 2cm cubes
1 large bell pepper – chopped to 2cm cubes
Mint chutney, onion rings – to serve
Whisk the yogurt in a large bowl until smooth. Add all the ingredients for marinade to the yogurt (ginger garlic paste, mustard oil, coriander powder, chaat masala, Kashmiri red chili powder, garam masala, red chili powder, kasuri methi and salt). Whisk to combine everything together. Add in juice of lemon along with chopped cilantro and mint. Mix well. Stir in the paneer cubes, onion and bell peppers. Mix until all the paneer pieces and veggies are well coated with the marinade. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for minimum for 1 hour. Then thread the paneer pieces on bamboo skewers along with onion and peppers, alternating with each other.
Meanwhile, pre-heat oven to 200º C for good 15-20 minutes. Arrange all the prepared skewers on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spray the tikka with oil spray or drizzle oil on each. (This is important so that the veggies don’t dry out.) Grill at 200º C for 10 minutes, then turn on the broil and broil for 2 to 3 minutes until paneer pieces look little charred. Remove from oven, squeeze lemon juice, sprinkle chaat masala and serve with cilantro mint chutney. You may also grill the skewers on a charcoal furnace, limiting the time for just 5-6 minutes, and turning them in between.