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Adventures with Cheese, Part II: Paneer in the Microwave

Paneer is the fresh white curd cheese used in Indian dishes like saag or palak paneer, aloo mattar paneer, and so on. Panela or queso fresco are okay substitutes, if you can get them, and they taste a lot better than tofu.

But you can also make paneer very easily (if a bit messily) at home in a few minutes, if you have a pyrex bowl, a microwave, and a colander. If milk is going cheap in your neighborhood market this week or you have half a gallon that you really need to use up quickly before you go on vacation, making paneer isn’t a bad way to do it.

You’ll get about 5 oz fairly dry curd for a quart of milk, so not a great yield, but it’s pretty versatile. Whole milk makes a richer cheese than skim, obviously, but both work okay. Press the curd hard when you drain it and it’s sliceable. Press lightly and it’s spreadable. If you use a quart of buttermilk on its own rather than mostly milk, you can blend in a little garlic and some herbs and a drop of olive oil to the drained curd, and you’ve got something close to Rondelé cheese spread.

And don’t just toss out the whey–it still has a lot of soluble smaller proteins and calcium in it, so it’s worth keeping if you can use it within a day or so. You can use some of the warm whey instead of water to make a moist, chewy-textured Italian-type yeast bread (whey is extremely good for rosemary focaccia). Or puree the whey with some lightly cooked broccoli or cauliflower or canned pumpkin, a bit of onion or garlic, and some marjoram and/or thyme for a quick fresh cream-of-vegetable soup.

Paneer from scratch (makes about 5 oz, can scale up if you prefer)

  • A quart of milk
  • 1 cup of buttermilk if you have it
  • juice of a lemon

1. Pour everything into a 2.5 qt. pyrex mixing bowl, mix, and microwave on HIGH about 5 minutes, until the milk solids separate from the clear yellow whey. The solids should float in a mass and be pulling away from the sides of the bowl.

2. Take a colander or strainer over another large bowl, line it with a couple of layers of cheesecloth or 3-4 overlapping round paper coffee filters, whatever works for you. Carefully pour the whey over first, keeping the curd back in the bowl with a serving spoon or spatula for as long as possible, until you’ve poured most of the whey through (otherwise it takes forever to drain…). Then drain the curd on the filters and press it until it’s fairly firm and could be cut into cubes without crumbling apart.

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