Curried Paneer Scramble with Oregano Oil
and "Whey Good" Black Bread
I'm a Cheese Maker!
It's uncertain whether the second time a person does something might make him or her an addict, but I think I might be hooked. Last week I made soft fresh cheese for the first time, and loved both the making and eating of it so much that I've already done it again. By calling it soft fresh cheese rather than its other common name, paneer, it helps me think about many more useful applications for it beyond Indian food. Two or three easily available ingredients (milk, lemons and optional salt,) barely any skill, and just a few minutes and you, too, can become a novice cheese maker.
And where there's cheese, there's whey. You may be thinking, "No whey!" but I am saying yes whey, and lots of it. I'm learning that this protein-rich liquid has an independent role in your kitchen as well. More on that in a bit. First, the tutorial on the soft fresh cheese. Warning: You are about to become an addict.
Choose the Right Pot and You're Preference of Milk
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, pour 1/2 gallon whole or 2% milk. Simple enough so far, mon petit fromager?
Two things I've already learned about the process so far:
- A non-stick pan isn't the best for this. A brown crust will form and when stirred, unsightly brown bits will slough off which you will have to pick out.
- 2% milk produces lean curds with more "squeak", more like the paneer I've had with Indian food. Delicious, easy to cut into cubes, and easy to brown up. Whole milk produces a creamier, stickier curd which can be cut into cubes, but is more adapted to crumbling. Both are wonderful; just decide which outcome you want when selecting your milk.
Bring the Milk to a Boil, Stirring Frequently
Next, heat the milk over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until it comes to a rolling boil. Whole milk creates more lush bubbles at this point than 2%, already giving you an idea of the difference in the resulting product.
Have the Juice of Two Lemons Strained and Ready
Have the juice of small two lemons ready. Once the milk is boiling, slowly add up to 2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice, stirring constantly. Turn the heat off. If you like your cheese a little salted, add about 1 teaspoon of your favorite variety. (My favorite at the moment is pink Himalayan salt.)
Stir in Lemon Juice Until Curds Form and Separate from Whey
As you stir, yucky looking curds will magically form. If the curds are not forming, continue to add lemon juice a little at a time until they do.
Realize You Haven't Made a Mistake at This Stage
Be warned that this really isn't the most appetizing looking stuff at this point. You have not made a mistake; you've made curds and whey!
Allow Curds to Drain Through Cloth Until Cool Enough to Handle,
Twist, Weight and Wait
Line a strainer with a cotton dishtowel or double-layered cheesecloth and place it over another bowl to catch the whey if you plan to use it.
Let it drain about 10 or 15 minutes until cool enough to handle. Bundle up your soft fresh cheese in the cloth, give it a twist to squeeze out any remaining whey, and place it wrapped up on a plate. Top with another plate and a couple of large cans to weight it. Let sit for 30 minutes or so to disperse any remaining whey. Wrap and store in the refrigerator.
Some things you can do with your cheese:
- Cube it up and brown it in hot oil. Serve as a appetizer with marinara sauce or any other delicious sauce or chutney.
- Saute leeks, peppers, and any other diced vegetables you wish. Add crumbled or cubed cheese, curry powder to taste, and serve drizzled with this amazing oregano stuff for a fantastic scramble. (See lead photo.)
- Browned cubes or crumbles would be nice in a mixed vegetable roast or saute at the last minute.
- Crumble on top of salads, enchiladas, casseroles, tacos, etc. Treat it as you would Mexican Queso Fresco.
- Make this most delicious chana masala and mustard green/spinach saag. Add browned cubes to the saag.
- If made the creamy way with whole milk, add chopped herbs and schmear it on bruschetta, bread or toast. Or leave your schmear plain and top with honey and chopped nuts.
- Stuff a date for a healthy snack.
- Use it in place of the water in baking recipes. The acidity adds tenderness to baked goods similar to buttermilk or yogurt. The black bread in the above photo was made with whey, and it was wonderful. (Thank you, Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks for this great recipe, and that of the Oregano Oil.)
- Use it in soups. It will add a subtle tang.
- Boil your pasta or rice in it.
- Feed a little to your kitties. They will smile at you.
- Water your acid-loving plants.