Paneer is a type of unripened cheese that is popular in Asia, especially in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Homemade Indian cheese called Paneer is the star ingredient in many classic Indian dishes. Paneer is a versatile ingredient which can be used to make a variety of dishes ranging from desserts like rasgullas, appetizers like paneer tikkas and delicious gravies like shahi paneer and paneer butter masala. And if you are following keto diet, paneer would be your go-to ingredient for making a variety of keto friendly dishes.
The Curds and the Whey
Paneer is a non melting, acid set curd cheese or farmer cheese that is made by curdling heated milk using vinegar or lemon juice.
The curds get separated from the whey and this is then strained using a muslin or cheesecloth. The whey collected beneath is especially rich in B vitamins and minerals like calcium and phosphorous, and can be used to knead atta or to make soups and gravies.
But consuming the whey is not advisable on a ketogenic diet as the predominant nutrient in whey liquid is the milk sugar, lactose. 1cup serving of this liquid contains 60 calories, 75% of which comes from the 13 grams of carbs in it.
The curds that get collected in the muslin cloth is the paneer. This soft creamy cheese is used in this crumbly form to make many dishes like rasgullas, paneer burji and stuffed parathas. Otherwise, a bundle is knotted using the muslin cloth and a weight is kept on top to squeeze out the excess water. After a couple of hours, you will get a solid chunk of paneer which can be cut into proper cubes.
Storing and Cooking with Paneer
Fresh paneer can be stored for two weeks in a refrigerator. It can also be frozen, well wrapped, for a few months. The defrosted or refrigerated paneer can be put in a bowl of warm water for thawing. It can then be cut into cubes as required. This process softens the paneer making it more tasty.
It’s best to simply squeeze out the excess warm water and the paneer cubes to the cooked gravy as the last step before garnishing. You can simmer the gravy with the paneer cubes for a few minutes before taking off the flame. This helps the paneer retain its soft melt-in-the-mouth texture.
Alternatively, the paneer cubes can be lightly sauteed or fried in a little butter. This makes the texture a little chewy, but it prevents the paneer from crumbling and blending into the gravy.
Easy Homemade Paneer Recipe for Keto Lovers
Store bought paneer may contain many undesirable additives like flour and preservatives. It much healthier and budget friendly to make this easy recipe at home.
- Muslin cloth/ Cheesecloth/ Thick gauze
- 4 cups whole milk [never use skimmed]
- 2 tbsp lemon juice/ 1 tbsp vinegar
- Line a large bowl or a colander using a double layer of cheesecloth. If you are using surgical gauze then layer it thickly enough to create the same effect. The cloth should be large enough to hang down the sides of the bowl, so that you will be able to gather up the curds and make a knotted bundle.
- In a large sauce pan, boil the milk over medium heat.
- Once it starts to simmer, keep stirring so that the milk does not get burned at the bottom of the saucepan.
- When milk starts boiling up, lower the heat and add the lemon juice. Keep stirring. Increase the heat a little, if necessary. The white milk solids called the curds separate away from the greenish whey water. You may sometimes need to add more lemon juice to separate out more curds to get the clear whey.
- Carefully pour the contents of the saucepan into the prepared muslin cloth over the colander. You can remove the whey water for later use if other members of the family are not on the keto diet.
- Gently rinse the curds with cool water to wash out the lemon flavour.
- Make a bundle and hang it up to drain. You can simply tie the cheesecloth to the kitchen faucet. As it sets you will get a soft ball of paneer.
- After draining it for 5 minutes, you can keep it on a flat surface and put a flat plate on top of it with added. The paneer will set in a flatter slab shape, so you can cut it into cubes.
- Before unwrapping the cheesecloth, keep the bundle in the fridge for a minimum of 20 minutes, though an hour or two would be more advisable. The paneer will set firm and it will not crumble when you cut it.
Your beautiful homemade cheese is ready for to be dunked into yummy butter masala or kadai gravies. Below is one example of how you can use your homemade paneer for a keto friendly paneer dish.
Jalfrezi is an Indo-chinese fusion dish in which the vegetables like onion, capsicum and tomatoes are sauteed in oil with rich spices to make a thick dry sauce.
Oil is heated first in a heavy bottom sauce pan. Cumin seeds are added to this and after 30 seconds, chopped onion is put in. Garlic paste is added after the onion becomes translucent. A spice mix of kashmiri chilli powder, turmeric and coriander powder is added and cooked well. You can add a little water if the spices get stuck to the cooking pan. Season with salt to your taste.
Add chopped capsicum and toss together. Cook for 5 minutes before adding chopped tomatoes. Add in the paneer cubes once the tomatoes have softened. Stir gently to coat the pieces well without breaking up the paneer. Add freshly chopped ginger bits and squeezed lemon juice, Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
The fresh ginger topping is optional. Drizzle some fresh cream for added taste and for increasing the fat content in your keto diet. You can also cook the entire dish in coconut oil, butter or ghee.
For more classic keto paneer recipes, stay tuned.