Isn’t it funny how the same thing that made you dread one subject can make you love another? When I think about my time at the university – I studied law – what I had hated most was the fact that law seemed so inexhaustible, like I’d never be able to conquer the complete discipline, knowing and understanding it all. Many years later, the sight of ever-changing loose leaf law collections like Schönfelder still gives me a feeling of reluctance and creeps. But what does that have to do with cooking and baking?
They do share the same root of the issue, there’s a sheer unmanageable vastness of information on cooking and baking. Many different preparation methods are available, countless ingredients or spices and a myriad of recipes for each country around the globe. Throw in the infinite creativity and knowledge of all chefs, food writers and home cooks and you’ll get an astronomical amount of possible dishes – nothing anybody could possibly digest in a lifetime – pun intended. No matter how hard you’d try, no single soul will ever know it all. But contrary to my bygone law studies, this is exactly why I love the subject of food so dearly. It helps me stay humble and curious, always on the look-out for new discoveries, never assuming I know it all. There always might be a better way to prepare short ribs or a superior food combination to make fennel shine to be put to the test.
When I’m lacking creativity, all I have to do is look closer into a different cooking style or a rarely used ingredient in my kitchen and within minutes new ideas spark. Even once neglected foods can easily become a household favorite (again), it all depends on one’s ambition and persistency to find the right preparation for oneself. In regards to the overly picky eater I once was, this has almost become some sort of fun challenge. (The only ingredients I still can’t fully embrace and bring myself to love after numerous tries is liquorice… but I’m sure I’ll get there. Some day. Since I won’t give up. And neither does Oliver ;-)
The last weeks I’ve been on an Indian cooking spree, working on my favorite curries and flatbreads. Along the way I re-discovered an old basic – homemade paneer (fresh cheese). I streamlined its preparation to my likes and now prefer to marinate it with a spice mix before sauteeing the cubes until their outside browns to some sort of chewy-crispness. But there is a downside to this progress: Now I don’t want to eat curries without my paneer-add-on anymore. Because these smooth milky cubes are the best counterpart to any hot Indian dish!
Cut the lemon in half and squeeze both halves, you should have 3 to 4 tablespoons of juice. Heat the milk in a pot (stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn) until it starts to boil, then add the salt and stir well. Reduce the heat, add the lemon juice and stir slowly until the milk has split and curdled. Then remove from heat and let stand for 2-3 minutes.
Meanwhile wet a cheesecloth and line a colander with it. Slowly pour the curds (including whey) into the lined colander and wait until most of the whey has drained off (you can speed up the process by carefully scraping the cheesecloth with a spoon). As soon as you can handle the hot cloth, squeeze the remaining whey by hand or – more effective – between two small cutting boards (I usually do this in the bath tub, where I can lean in and use my body weight for squeezing).
Open the cheesecloth and scrape and press the curds into a rectangular shape, about 1,5 cm (0,5 inch) thick. Wrap into 2 layers of kitchen paper and let firm up over night in a closed container in the fridge. This results in about 200 g fresh paneer. It keeps well for a couple of days (I’ve tried up to 4 days so far).
Serve it with your favorite curry, it serves 2-3: Cut the paneer into cubes and marinate it with the spices and the oil. Heat ghee in a non stick pan and carefully fry the fragile cubes until they have formed a nice brown crust, then top the curry with them. Tip: If the cheese hasn’t firmed up enough it is very likely to crumble and melt while browning. This may not look especially appealing, but it tastes delicious nevertheless!
Good to know
MILK: I always use organic whole milk from cows, therefor I cannot give recommendations on other sorts of milk.
SALT: Some people don’t salt paneer at all, other salt the curds. I prefer to salt the boiling milk, so the salt gets distributed evenly (but you need more salt this way!).
CHEESECLOTH: If you don’t have a cheesecloth and want to try this recipe, you can even use the omnipresent dish towel from IKEA (but make sure to boil it in a pot of water before its first use!). The straining part does take a little longer longer though.
Spiced-up sauteed Paneer
Recipe source: adapted from various sources
Active: 20-30 min., all-together: at least 18 hours
Ingredients (~200 g Paneer) :
for the Paneer:
1,5 liter whole milk (3,5 %, non UHT pasteurized)
1,5-2 tsp fine sea salt
for the finishing touch:
~1/2 tsp ground cumin
~1/2 tsp chile powder
~1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp oil (e.g. sunflower)
2 tbsp ghee