Hello everyone and welcome to todays instalment of a really bad play on words!
First off – I couldn’t help myself – so let’s just get the apologies out of the way to start with, and then on to the cheese-making! (I could put a few more bad jokes RIGHT THERE but I will control myself.) Anyways, sorry.
Secondly, many of the photos here were taken by my boyfriend Adam – just so you know! I found it very difficult to make cheese and be a photo taker at the same time so he stepped in valiantly. Timing is everything.
All that said – I would like to share with you a recipe for the simplest most delicious homemade cheese I’ve ever had. (Mind you, it’s the ONLY homemade cheese I’ve ever had – I haven’t experiment with rennets and things and made cheddar and the like… I hope to – but I digress…)
First a little backstory.
Every time I head home to Nanaimo, I essentially force my parents (I’m a terrible daughter) to take me for dinner at Amrikko’s Indian Grill. It is, by far, my favourite place for Indian food – it is just so, so freaking good. I always overeat there – (the onion bhaji – so crazy delicious)(navrattan korma)(butter chicken)(everything vindaloo)(and then the dips – THE DIPS – some sort of crazy delicious mint dip and then a sweet delicious one..) – and then, my favourite dish, Palak Paneer. Palak Paneer is essentially a light but firm cheese (paneer – it has a similar texture but totally different taste to something like Haloumi or Feta – and can be grilled) tossed in a deliciously spiced spinach (or palak) sauce.
When I’m not home in Nanaimo, I often find myself dreaming of palak paneer – and finally I have been pushed over the edge, and have decided to make my own.
Paneer, the cheese part of the palak paneer, is actually amazingly simple to make, once you get the hang of it. It has taken me a few times to get said hang of it, but I think i’ve got it down to a rough art now. (…not to be confused with a fine art. – I still screw up sometimes.) If you love cheese as much as I do – AND I REALLY LOVE CHEESE – the spark that the following knowledge to be shared will give you in your heart is nothing short of an emotional epiphany.
YES – you can make your own cheese. It may take a few times to get the hang of it – but get the hang of it you will – and will be forever changed.
I’ve made this a few times for veggie curries and things, this being the first time I’ve ever made full-on palak paneer – and here are the ingredients.
- 1 Litre Milk (I use %2, but if you want a richer cheese go for full fat – and apparently you can even use light or skim milk)
- 2 tbls of lemon juice
And that’s it.
Here’s what to do:
Put the milk on to boil – making sure to stir it enough so that it doesn’t burn on the bottom. I’ve had the most success with a large metal pot – large enough to hold boiling milk – and have failed miserably with a porcelain dutch oven type pot. Perhaps someone sciencey can tell me why. Something about reactions and metals and science. Sure, why not.
Anyhow, once the milk comes to a boil (and you will know, it expands like CRAZY so keep a close eye on it – and, once again, make sure your pot is large enough to handle this or else you’ll have a milky mess on your hands – it’s happened to me – and it is not pretty), add your lemon juice to the mix and reduce the heat to medium low while stirring – until large curds are formed and they seperate from an almost clear whey. You will know when this happens – the seperation should be pretty obvious. If it’s not, put it on to boil again and add more lemon juice (or vinegar if you like – or citric acid and water apparently) and try again.
When you are happy with how your curds have separated from the whey, pour the mixture in to a cheese cloth hanging above a bowl. Myself, I don’t have a cheese cloth – so I used a sieve and a piece of paper towel…
When I realized THAT was a horrible mistake, I quickly transferred the almost papery cheese (oops) to an unused pair of silver tights with the legs tied off. Perfect. (I didn’t taste any silver when I ate it…)
Once all of your liquid is drained, depending on how firm you want the cheese, weigh down with a custard dish and small waving happy stone cat and put in the fridge while you make your sauce. (or, you know, whatever you have to weigh it down.)(And yes, that is cat food in the background – we are protecting it from the dog. Gross? Maybe. Necessary? Definitely.)
I find with this cheese, timing is everything. Don’t add the lemon juice before it totally boils like crazy – and make sure to keep on the heat until the curds are separated to your approval.
For the palak part, I simply boiled about 5 or 6 big handfuls of spinach in water for about 5 minutes, drained, and pureed in a blender with 2 chopped tomatoes.
I added that mixture to already toasted and heated vegetable oil, garlic, ginger, onion (you’ll want to chop yours smaller than mine – I was really really hungry and impatient by this point), and spices. I am pretty sure there was cumin, fennel, cardamom, coriander, turmeric, white pepper, salt and chili powder in there, but to be honest, I’m not sure. I have a bunch of unnamed bags from bulk barn. I made sure to not add anything like cinnamon sugar – and that’s all I know.
For a better and more exact recipe, do google palak paneer recipes – there are tons out there. I always find the simplest the best!
While that was happening, I chopped the paneer in to pretty little bite sized pieces (I sprinkled it with sea salt first – to taste) and fried in a touch of oil on both sides til nice and golden brown – tossed it all together, and enjoyed copiously.
I hope that you enjoy this as much as I do. Because I do. A lot.
I’m headed on tour soon, so in my next entry I will add a few tour dates to the recipe.
Take care and talk soon,
still waiting for spring,