Paneer is an Indian cheese, and I sometimes see it referred to as Indian cottage cheese – but don’t expect the same consistency as the cottage cheese we know in the UK. It’s a firm, springy cheese that crumbles nicely. One of its great advantages is that it doesn’t melt when cooked but holds its shape perfectly, so it’s very suitable as a meat substitute when used in dishes with a sauce.
It isn’t salted either, so you can use a good quantity in a dish, in a way that you couldn’t with, say, haloumi or feta. Also, it absorbs its surrounding flavours beautifully, just like tofu, but is a much firmer, chewier texture.
It’s actually very easy to make at home (you just need milk and lemon juice), and I plan to post a step-by-step class in the near future. But when I don’t have time, I simply buy it from one of the supermarkets, either in a block or a packet already cubed. I much prefer the cubes as they have a nice springy texture, while I find the blocks a bit more pressed and difficult to cut. There’s no real difference in the price of these two options. Alternatively, you can buy it at one of the larger Asian stores where it’s bound to be better value.
You mostly have two cooking options with paneer. You can either brown it in some oil in a pan so it becomes nicely toasted on all sides before adding it to your chosen dish; or you can simply add the pale, uncooked cubes to your sauce and let them absorb the flavours while being heated.
I enjoy paneer in both these ways – I can’t really choose a favourite. Obviously the second option is going to save you a little time with the cooking process.
This paneer dish is largely based on a recipe from Meena Patak’s (as in the major Indian food brand Patak’s) Complete Indian Cooking, where it’s called Indian Cheese in a Mint and Coriander Sauce, with a few of my own alterations. It’s light and refreshing, and looks beautiful when served.
Patak advises you to fry the paneer before adding, but I’ll leave that up to you. Maybe make it twice over a few weeks and see which way you prefer.
Paneer in a coriander, mint and chilli sauce
500g cubed paneer
75g fresh coriander
25g fresh mint
Around 6 small green chillies (these are much more economical to buy in an Asian food store, as is the coriander for that matter)
300g natural yoghurt
Oil for frying (coconut or vegetable)
Two medium onions
2 tsp grated ginger
3-4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tsp lovage seeds (known as ajwain seeds in India)
100ml cream (you could substitute with more yoghurt if you’re watching calories)
Half a tsp garam masala
Salt to taste
Put the coriander, mint and chillies in a food processor with a little water and blitz to a smooth green paste. Stir the paste into the yoghurt in a bowl.
Next, blitz the onions in the food processor until finely minced. In a frying pan heat some oil and add the lovage seeds for one minute. Then add the minced onions and fry for around 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for a further three minutes, before adding the herby yoghurt mixture to the pan and cooking for a few more minutes.
Finally add in the paneer cubes, cream, garam masala and salt to taste and cook for five minutes.
Serve this dish with rice or chapattis (or any kind of flatbread).
I’ve added this dish to the Cooking with Herbs monthly challenge, hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage. I’m sure Karen will be delighted to hear that this dish does actually contain lovage!