The easy way – make paneer from cottage cheese

Last weekend, I made paneer makhani again. I am getting addicted to this stuff. Paneer makhani, or paneer butter masala as it’s sometimes called, is really quick to make, makes you feel like a super chef and quite tasty too. I had a half hour to squeeze in cooking between grocery shopping and gardening, and this was perfect. If it is so good it makes me feel like superwoman, I decided it is worth blogging about.

I never liked making paneer dishes because I always thought of the fat and the calories. Until last month. I have made paneer makhani three times in the last four weeks. And I am not even feeling guilty. It’s low-fat paneer, I tell myself. Paneer is full of calcium, so it can’t be all bad, right?

There are three ways to get paneer cubes if you are in the US – (i) buy it at the local Indian grocery store, (ii) make it at home, and (iii) Lekhni’s way.

I am frequently forgetful and always lazy. So I usually forget all about paneer when I visit the Indian grocery store. I would also like to make sure I use organic, low-fat paneer, which is not a choice I have in the Indian store.

I am too lazy to make paneer at home – curdling milk and tying it up and waiting for a whole day…the whole process seems rather too time-consuming and messy. Especially when you consider that I can never boil milk without having it pour all over my cooktop.

So here is what I do – I buy organic, low-fat cottage cheese. This solves the problem, as cottage cheese is available in any grocery store, and you can get all the organic and other good stuff too. The only issue – cottage cheese is not cubed, it comes in tiny globules that look like white boondis in whey. I want my paneer to be in nice little cubes, not any of the boondi stuff. I can try pressing the cottage cheese and see if it hardens, or I can refrigerate it and hope it hardens, but again, I suspect these methods will take too much time.

Not a problem. Every paneer recipe calls for frying the paneer cubes in ghee or butter before you add it to the masala. So when you are preparing the paneer dish, all you need to do is fry the cottage cheese in ghee (or butter). You will notice it clumps up nicely when you fry it. You then take it out from the pan and drain out the excess melted butter squeeze the paneer a little so that it becomes completely dry.

Now your paneer will be in one large ball. All you need to do is flatten it out. Place it between two cutting boards or any other surface and press for a minute. Proceed to cut the paneer into little cubes.

Here is how I make Paneer Butter Masala/ Paneer Makhani. You will find some great recipes out there and I am not trying to reinvent the wheel, just showing you how the easy way works. This recipe serves 2-3.

1. Soak 1 tbsp cashew pieces in warm water for 15-20 minutes.

2. Grind 1 tomato, some onion and an inch of ginger into a puree. Or you can use ginger-garlic paste and tomato puree.

3. Melt butter in a frying pan and add the cottage cheese. Fry a little until it clumps together and turns just a little brown. Simmer the cottage cheese – if you turn up the heat too much, the cottage cheese will all dissolve. But on a low flame, the cottage cheese will clump together into one solid mass within a couple of minutes. (On the other hand, if you want a thicker gravy with some paneer in the gravy, first heat up the pan and dissolve some cottage cheese in it, then simmer and add more cottage cheese).

4. Pour the contents of the pan into a bowl. Now fry the onion-tomato puree (or the ginger garlic paste and tomato puree) in the same pan until the oil separates out. If you are really pressed for time, use two pans – one for the paneer and another for the puree.

5. Add all the spices you like to the puree – garam masala, dhania powder, asafoetida, turmeric powder. For chilli powder, I add the Kashmiri chilli powder, not too spicy and nice orange color. Also add a pinch of kasuri methi.

6. Simmer this stuff for a while and then throw in the cashew paste, the whey-butter mix from the paneer.

7. While the masala mix simmers, cool the paneer (hopefully clumped by now) and squeeze it a few times and press it between 2 cutting boards, or just flatten it with your palm. The paneer should be a nice solid mass now. You should be easily able to cut into into cubes.

8. Add the paneer to the masala just before serving. If you add it too early, there is the risk that it might dissolve.

The advantage with my method that the prep time reduces considerably. Of course, you can decrease the time even more with store-bought paneer. Although, if it is frozen rock-solid, you may want to soak the store bought paneer in warm water, or microwave it before adding it to the masala mix.

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29 Comments

  1. hey lek..thats a nice recipe..all without onions!..I should try this…but why do you press the paneer bet boards?..to remove excess butter?..

    normally to avoid excess butter into paneer, I normally use 1/2 tsp of it in a non-stick pan and simmer it, while I am making a puree of the onions and tomatoes in my recipe!..guess I am not too overly keen in removing the butter..heheh..

    but yours really sounds wonderful!…:)

  2. You are very inspired, Lekhni or as Rada says, Makhni! ;-)

    The nearest place for me to get desi paneer is a train ride away. Now I am out of all whole spices, I have to go one of these days, as I make my own spices for Indian and Thai cooking. But I dread the trip. The place is a time warp with desis who got here in the 1960s still thinking it is the 1960s. A bit like Berkeley where someone forgot to tell them the time..

    Will have to try your recipe some time in the summer, when I hope to have more time. Else one will have to see on a trip to your side of the pond ;-)

  3. This beats the oven baked paneer from cottage cheese method that I read about-I will definitely give it a try this evening. Thanks for the timesaving tip, Lekhni!

  4. Wait….so you just put the whole pot of cottage cheese and fry it? Or you just fry those little balls (what’s with them, anyway?) and leave the liquid bit aside?

    And HOW is making paneer so difficult? You do the boiling/curdling last thing at night, and let it strain overnight, and then put between boards in the morning. Done.

    Srivalli:
    The pressing is to remove any excess liquid, and to give the paneer some shape.

  5. Rada: That’s a good one :)

    Srivalli: You press the paneer to remove the excess whey/butter mix, as ??! says. You don’t have to throw away the liquid, in my recipe I add it back to the masala. And I do add onion..

    Shefaly: I can imagine how that would be – stuck in the 60s, I mean. I find people who leave India tend to stick to the behavior norms that existed when they left, and pass them on to their kids. India, on the other hand, would have changed a lot in the meantime.

    La vida Loca: Did you try the paneer then ? :P

    A Cynic in Wonderland: Yes, that’s the selling point of this dish for me.

    Szerlem: It tasted as good as it looked (if that helps ;) )

    Sujatha: Oh, I had never come across that oven baked recipe. This one should take less time, though, as pre-heating the oven alone takes 10 minutes for me..

    ??!: Yeah, you just ladle in cottage cheese from the tub (say 3-4 ladles) and fry it. Cottage cheese looks like boondis or little balls in whey.
    Curdling the milk at night and straining it overnight to make paneer is a great idea too! Thanks for that tip.

  6. lekhni:
    Isn’t that how everyone makes it? It just made the most sense to me, time-management-wise.

    Also, since we are sharing tips, while the curdled milk is straining, I tend to add a couple of tblspoons of plain curd and mix it around in the paneer. It somehow helps it ‘set’ better.

  7. ??!: I wouldn’t know, as I said, I never made paneer dishes before, and I wouldn’t have thought to plan ahead.
    I will try making paneer from scratch sometime, and also use your plain curd tip.

  8. Ahh, the mystery is explained. In which case, if you’re doing it for the first time, be warned that there are several minor variations to making paneer. Some options -
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A1143794
    http://www.mamtaskitchen.com/recipe_display.php?id=10076
    http://www.durian.org/wl_paneer

    Personally, I put the heat on medium-low, let the full-fat milk boil, then bring to a simmer and add the lemon juice (I usually need about a lemon-and-a-half of juice to make the milk separate as much as possible). Let it simmer for a couple of minutes and stir gently so it continues to curdle, then turn off heat and let stand for about 5 minutes. Then strain, add the curd, and let hang overnight (I just leave it tied to the tap in the sink). In the morning, do the board thingy.

    I also add a little salt and cumin along with the curd – it’s not authentic, but it does make the paneer just a touch more interesting.

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  11. Hey, you are trying to avoid fat, at the same time frying it in oil/butter. I say Paneer makhani is a calorie/fat minefield.

  12. ??! Thanks, I will remember this if I make paneer from scratch :) The cumin sounds very interesting.

    Sujatha: I am glad to find you were successful despite my instructions ;)

    Sudhanshu: Yes, I know, I did try dry roasting the cottage cheese without butter, but it doesn’t clump unless you add the butter. What you can do if you want to decrease the butter content is to throw away the liquid (the whey and melted butter mix) that remains after the cottage cheese clumps. You are right, paneer makhani is a calorie and fat minefield, we can only try to reduce that a bit :) Let me know if you find any more tips for improving this recipe.

  13. Thanks Lekhni for your excellent suggestion. I had got cottage cheese from ASDA. They suggest to eat with mashed potatoes..I think, plain yogurt is better combination with mashed potatoes rather than cottage cheese. In order to convert it into Indian Panner, I experimented first day directly onto gravy and it just melted. Next day, I tried to do as you had suggested and to my surprise, the ‘small bundhis’ really sticks together..There is amazing chemical bonding between them. And tastes very yummy too when you put them into gravy later.

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  15. This does not work. I tried it and the cottage cheese just melted. You should have been more specific with the directions. You should have also said how this DOESN’T EVEN WORK!

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  17. CAn you post hoe much butter/ghee to use for a 1 tablespoon of cottage cheese. I added ghee but the cottage cheese melted and became runny.

  18. This doesn’t work at all. I did it at low heat as recommended and it just melted. This is a waste of time and effort. Doesn’t work!

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