Paneer and Whey for lunchI've always liked the idea of making my own cheese, well, actually, I've always liked the idea of making most of my food myself. In fact one of the first books I've ever bought for myself was Practical Self-Sufficiency by Sally Taylor. Reading about making cheese in Jam It, Pickle it, Cure It by Karen Solomon reignighted my enthusiasm.

We are not big milk drinkers in my family. In fact nobody drinks milk. We use it in coffee and cooking but not as a beverage. We somehow ended up with a gallon of 1% low fat milk that would probably get old and spoiled and than down the drain.

Making basic cheese is easy. For this South Asian, vegetarian cheese, called Paneer and similar to Anari from Cyprus or Beyaz peynir from Turkey, all you'll need is:

  • 1 Gallon of milk (whole or low fat - your choice)
  • ½ cup of lime juice (any food acid will work - lemon juice, vinegar, citric acid or yogurt, I use lime juice because I have a key lime tree in my backyard)

That's it and you'll get about 1½ to 2 cups of cheese and 3 quarts of whey.

Milk and food acid like lime juice is all you need. Bring the milk to a boil and por in the juice. Stir gently as the curds form.
Milk, food acid, like lime juice, a big pot and a clean dish cloth is all you need. Bring the milk to a boil and pour in the juice. Stir gently as the curds form.

In a heavy or thick bottomed pot bring your milk to a boil. Be careful, milk bubbles up quickly when it reaches the boiling point. You don't want to be cleaning up the mess when it boils over. So, use a small flame, tend to the pot, stir occasionally with a wooden spoon and when the milk starts bubbling take it of the heat quickly. Blowing on the rising milk also helps to bring it down. Turn the heat down, way down so that the milk barely simmers and pour in the lime or lemon juice. Stir gently and watch the curds form. After a few minutes turn off the heat and let it stand for 10 to 15 minutes.

Place a strainer over a large bowl and cover it with a linen dish towel. Linen dish towel is my personal choice. I like the very simple ones from IKEA because they resemble the ones we used to have back in Poland - simple, cheap and functional. You can use several layers of cheese cloth or some other organic, not petrochemical plastic, pours cloth.

Strain the curds and rince with cold water. Adding a cup of lime juice and some honey to your whey will make a tasty limeade.
Strain the curds and rince with cold water. Adding a cup of lime juice and some honey to your whey will make a tasty limeade.

Pour the still hot whey and curds into the strainer. You will end up with a bowl of whey and a dish towel of curds. Put the whey aside and rinse the curds under some cold water. Fold up the towel corners around the curds like a satchel and squeeze as much water out as you can. Basically now you will have a bunch of sweet tasting curds that can be crumbled on a salad or into a soup but Paneer is a slicing cheese so we have one more step.

Take your satchel of curds and put them on a cutting board. Now you need a way to squeeze more water out. I simply put another cutting board on top of the curds and a brick on top of that. Leave the cheese out to dry for 3 to 5 hours. You will end up with a fairly solid, flat round of bouncy, sweet cheese. It is perfect for all Indian and South Asian recipes that require Paneer.

I like it best sliced and fried up in a pan till the sides get brown and crispy.

What about the whey. Lots of people just dump the stuff. What a waste. It contains lactose, vitamins, protein and minerals and it can help regulate and reduce spikes in blood sugar levels. Remember Miss Muffet? Whey was never thrown out in the old days.

In this case because I used lime juice to curdle the milk a simply added 1 more cup of key lime juice and a little honey to make a very refreshing, nourishing and tasty limeade.

Fried Paneer with greens and limeade

And that was lunch:

  • a few slices of fried Paneer
  • a bed of salad greens
  • a few halved cherry tomatoes
  • olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • and a glass of whey limeade with a sprig of mint

Hard to beat for taste, nutrition and economy.

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