In our house, we consume a pretty large amount of milk considering that there are only two adults who live at home. We buy about a gallon of milk every 7-10 days, and I definitely think of milk as a crucial necessity in my life. There have been a few mornings that I have come downstairs and become crestfallen when there is less than 1 cup of milk left in the gallon! Because of this, both Srini and I make sure to stay well stocked in milk. Every now and then, though, we each end up buying a gallon, and then I have to come up with ways to use it up. Sometimes I make yogurt, but other times, especially when the milk is flirting with spoilage, the best thing to do is make paneer! Paneer is an Indian fresh cheese that is rich and delicious. One of my favorite ways to eat it is in this paneer bhurji, where it is treated almost as scrambled eggs and mixed with lots of spices, tomatoes, and onions. It’s rich, delicious, and surprisingly easy to make. Instead of dumping your extra milk down the drain, try your hand at this delicious paneer instead!
To start off with, it’s important to understand what paneer is and how it is possible that you can cook it over high heat without it dissolving into a bowl of melted cheese goop. Once again I turned to my trusty On Food and Cooking to learn more. Paneer is a fresh cheese that is made by treating warm milk with acid. When the milk meets the acid, the casein proteins coagulate and bind together creating the curd and leaving behind the pale yellow whey. Because the coagulation happens in the presence of acid, the casein directly bind to each other instead of getting trapped in a calcium matrix. When the cheese is heated, water leaves the protein matrix, creating an even tighter bond and preventing the cheese from melting. That’s why you can sear, fry, and scramble paneer without worrying about it melting into a cheesy soup! Cheeses coagulated with rennet have their casein protein in the form of micelles stabilized by calcium. These micelles can be destabilized by heat, leading to delicious melt. But I digress…
So how to go about making paneer at home? It’s simple, just take some milk (fresh or spoiled!), heat it until hot and steamy with a few pinches of salt, and add a good dose of acid. I like lemon or lime juice the best to keep the flavor the most delicious it can be. Then, stir until the milky white curds separate from the pale yellow whey. Then, set up a strainer lined with cheesecloth or a clean cotton towel and carefully pour in to separate the curds from the whey. Suspend the curds to help drain even more water and create a firm texture, and you are ready to go! As you can see, I basically used a rubber band and a cabinet handle as my suspension kit and it helped speed the firming process along quite a bit. Once your paneer is ready to go, you can use it in a million ways, or in this case in paneer bhurji!
The paneer bhurji comes together very easily. You bloom some warm spices in oil until they are toasty and fragrant. Add some chopped onions and cook until golden. Then tomatoes until they start to break down, then the holy trinity, a flurry of spices, and (of course) my family’s amazing garam masala. Then the crumbled paneer goes in, and gets stirred until it’s barely combined with the spice blend and heated through. I personally love the contrast of having some pockets of clean, creamy paneer mixed with the assertive spice notes. Then you serve it; I enjoyed it as a toast topper on my sourdough bread, but it would also be delicious with Indian flatbread or even chips! Or be creative and serve it on top of or under a crisply seared steak or chicken thigh with extra crispy skin!
Spiced Paneer with Tomatoes and Onions ~ Paneer Bhurji
|Prep:||Cook:||Yield: Serves 4||Total:|
Homemade paneer with warm spices and the richness of tomatoes and onions. Delicious on toast or right out of the bowl!
- For the paneer:
- 3 qt of whole milk
- Juice of 0.5 to 1.5 lemons or limes
- Few generous pinches of salt
- For the spiced onion and tomato:
- 1 Tbsp canola oil, or other neutral flavored oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 3-5 whole cloves
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 1 tsp of whole cumin seeds
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
- 1 tsp garlic paste, or similar amount crushed garlic
- 1 tsp crushed/grated ginger
- 1 tsp crushed/finely minced jalapeno
- 1/2 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder, or cayenne powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala
- Cilantro, for garnish
- For the paneer:
- Heat the milk and salt over medium heat in a large saucepan until just simmering. Add the lemon juice, starting with the juice of half of lemon and stir well, maintaining a bare simmer. If within a few minutes, the milk doesn't start to separate, add the juice of another half of a lemon. Repeat with the remaining half if needed. Once the milk coagulates, keep stirring intermittently until the curds float to the top and the remaining liquid is a relatively translucent pale yellow color.
- Place a clean woven dishtowel in the base of a strainer or colander and place in a large bowl. Carefully pour the curds and whey into the dishtowel. Gather the edges of the dishtowel together and gently squeeze the contents to encourage more of the liquid whey to come out. Wrap a rubber band around the gathered ends and suspend from a hook or cabinet knob over a bowl to allow to drain effectively. Drain for a few hours or until the paneer is firm, like bread dough. Crumble into a bowl. You should have about 2 cups of paneer. Set aside.
- For the spiced onion and tomatoes:
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cloves, and cumin and swirl. Heat until the spices are toasted and fragrant. Add the onions and stir well. Cook, stirring intermittently until the onions are golden. Once the onions are done, add the tomatoes and cook until they disintegrate. Add the garlic, ginger, and jalapenos to the tomatoes and cook until the raw smell of those spices disappear, a few minutes. Add the red chili, turmeric, and a few pinches of salt and stir.
- Cook until some oil separates from the tomatoes. When this happens, add the garam masala and stir well to combine. Add the crumbled paneer and stir until just combined. Taste, and adjust for salt. Garnish with cilantro and serve.
Goes well on top of toast, with Indian flatbread, as a dip for sturdy pita chips, or on top of seared steak or chicken with a crisp skin.