Despite the lump of impenetrable mousetrap that was my home-made Cheddar, Colin, I was keen to get back on the cheese-making horse but felt that I need to do some limbering up before I tackled anything too complicated. Paneer is about as simple as cheese gets; milk is curdled and then pressed into a lump. It’s difficult to get wrong and suitable even for an inveterate cheese-mangler like me.
The ingredients are few; for enough paneer to feed two people, start with two litres of whole milk. Supermarket milk is fine, no need to source unpasteurised organic rare breed milk for this one. Heat the milk in a large pan until it reaches boiling point and then add 3-4 teaspoons of lemon juice (you can also try it with vinegar) and stir well. The milk should immediately start to curdle and when it does, remove the pan from the heat. You should have a mass of curds floating in some unattractive green whey.
I’ll admit that at my first attempt I didn’t get a great yield of curds and the liquid still looked milky so I heated it back up and added some more lemon juice. Scoop out the curds into a cheesecloth and drain off the whey.
At this point in the cheese-making proceedings it is customary for me to smash something and sure enough I didn’t disappoint. For once, however, it wasn’t something important like a thermometer.
By the time I had cleared up the pint glass carnage, the curds had drained nicely (I hung the knotted cheesecloth from the draining board). Put a heavy object (this is a 1.25 kilo tin) on top of the cheesecloth and leave it to press for about thirty minutes.
You should be left with a nice firm block of cheese, albeit a bit lumpy and bumpy around the edges.
Cut it into cubes or whatever shape you fancy and you’re ready to cook with it.
I decided to make a Balti with my paneer. The origins of Balti curries aren’t clear but they became popular in Birmingham and the West Midlands during the 1980s and 1990s. I grew up not far away and can remember a Balti house opening in my town and going to eat there with a large group of teenage friends. I can’t remember who I was with or even quite where the restaurant was but I can remember what must have been my first encounter with coriander leaves – and being amazed by the taste. I’m fortunate now to live in an area of London renowned for its curries – Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Nepalese – and so I can buy pretty much any spice I want. I made a Balti Masala paste from scratch, based roughly on this recipe from The Curry Guy. The amounts below made enough paste for about four servings:
1.5 tbsp coriander seeds
1.5 tbsp white cumin seeds
1 three inch piece of cinnamon, broken into pieces
½ tbsp black peppercorns
½ tbsp fennel seeds
½ tbsp black mustard seeds
The seeds of three cardamom pods
½ tbsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp onion seeds
½ tbsp dried mint leaves
15 dried curry leaves
4 bay leaves
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp ground garlic powder
1 tbsp ground ginger powder
½ tbsp ground red chilli powder
Vinegar and vegetable oil
Put the seeds, cloves, cinnamon and peppercorns in a dry frying pan and dry fry over medium heat until the spices begin to smoke.
Put these spices along with all the leaves in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder.
Add the rest of the ground spices and mix well. At this point I can guarantee that your kitchen will be smelling incredible.
Mix one heaped tablespoon of the powder with two tablespoons of vinegar and two tablespoons of vegetable oil to form a paste.
Finely chop up one onion, three cloves of garlic, a thumb-sized piece of ginger, one red chilli and one red pepper. Fry in some oil until softened.
Add one tablespoon of Balti Masala paste per serving and stir well whilst heating it up. Add one tin of tomatoes and 450ml of stock (I used chicken). Bring to the boil and simmer for about 25 minutes.
At this point add your paneer. Mine felt a bit soft and I was worried it was going to dissolve so added it gently to the sauce and let it simmer for about five minutes, whilst covering the pieces in the sauce. Remarkably it stayed in one piece. Garnish with lots of chopped coriander and serve with naan breads and yoghurt.