On a trip of a life-time to India last year, I was lucky enough to take a cooking class with formidable cook and entrepreneur Shashi. Up some narrow stairs and beneath the Sunrise restaurant in the beautiful lake city of Udaipur, Shashi’s spotless kitchen is host to many travellers who come to learn about north indian cuisine from this popular home cook. She had our small group turning out chapatis and homemade cheese at lightening speed.
Shashi’s classes are all the more inspiring for her life story. As a Brahmin in the Indian caste system, she had no way to support herself and her two young boys following the death of her husband – not being allowed to perform certain work, such as clothes washing and cleaning, left Shashi with few choices. Luckily her son’s friends convinced her that her cooking was so good she ought to teach—and the rest is history.
Shashi who now speaks fluent English and her cooking school has the #1 rating on TripAdvisor for things to do on in Udaipur. The spices and flavour of well prepared authentic Indian food, is unbeatable for me, so our four hours spend cooking flakey pakora, aubergine and tomato masala, naan with cheese and tomato (Indian pizza!) coriander and mango chutneys was a trip highlight.
Most special of all was learning how to make the healthy delicious and incredibly simple paneer cheese Ive always loved in dishes like Saag Paneer and Shahi Paneer (cream tomoato and spcies) It’s a fresh cheese, that does not need to be aged and is incredibly easy to make at home. So here’s how to make your very own paneer, great for fresh delicious home curries, and perfect for kebabs for your next bbq.
How to make paneer(its ridiculously simple!)
- 1 litre organic whole fat milk (*I use Barambah – see notes)
- ½ lemon
Bring milk to the boil and when boiling slowly add the lemon juice and cook for 1 minute more. Turn off the heat and allow to sit for 15 minutes to ensure the curds and whey have fully separated.
Strain the milk through a muslin cloth pressed into a sieve. You can tie the corners of the cloth, suspend from a spoon and hang over large pan. Once you have removed all the liquids (squeeze the mixture in the muslin with your hands to make sure) place curd on bench and cover with a board or plate and some heavy weights for half an hour. Place in a container (salting lightly if desired) and put in the refrigerator to chill for an hour before you slice and use.
When using in curries or other dishes, salt and fry lightly in oil first, then add to the sauce before serving. There are tons of recipes that use paneer—including delicious creamy butter paneer (the vegetarian version of butter chicken). Its made with a touch of ground coconut and cashew (not cream). My other favourite is to dice panner and use with capsicum and onion for veggie kebabs to grill on the barbecue. With a tandoor sauce poured over to serve, you’ll be in heaven.
Paneer will keep in the refrigerator for 4 or 5 days.
Keep in mind that you will get a lot of whey and not so much curd for the original recipe above – so it will make a small curry to accompany another dish. For this reason I tend to make in bigger batches using 2-3 litres of milk.
The whey (left over liquid ) is full of protein and flavour which is great for adding to smoothies, stocks and stews. You can also use it to make homemade ricotta. Keep in the refrigerator or freeze. Waste not want not as my grandmother used to say!
A word on dairy
Select a quality organic milk you trust. I only use Barambah Milk because I believe their dairy to be the most humane and ethical in terms of animal welfare and its easy to find in most quality grocers and health food stores. They also use organic farming practices which makes their products better for us and the environment.
Eating dairy is a very personal choice and I have chosen to restrict mine as an occasional food where possible. For many milk can be the cause of allergies, and skin problems, while yoghurt and cheeses are better tolerated.
The simple fact is that on most dairies cows are taken from their mothers shortly after birth, causing distress to both mother and young—while around 1 million male bobby calves are considered waste products and sent off to the abbatoir within days of birth in Australia each year.
Barambah dairy do neither of these things, keeping young cows with their mothers for longer as well as raising male cows on another part of their farms until about six months of age, where they will then be sent off for slaughter to be used as veal. No pesticides, chemical fertilisers and antibioticsare used by Barambah, and their milk is pasturised in a slower less intensive heat process preserving greater nutrient value in their milk.
Check out locally available products in your area as other dairies in Australia may offer similar care in their production, but may not be as widely available. There’s no perfect solution if you’re concerned about animal suffering, but the more we support conscious producers the better it will be for our cud-loving friends.