Some bit of time ago, I was working for a company and one day they ordered some lunch for everybody. The end.
No, they brought in Indian that day and you know how it is when you are a busy professional and you are waiting in line behind your fellow professionals ("Let's continue that conversation we started by the water cooler about The Office...") for your turn in the conference room that has been temporarily turned into the buffet room and there are about 10 rectangular aluminum trays filled with vegetables in a reddish sauce and meat in an orange sauce and meat and vegetables in a yellow sauce and you fill your tray up and go back to your desk to eat before you get back to crunching the numbers.
Anyway, on this day one of the dishes that had some meat and some vegetables and came in an orange-red sauce was particularly delicious; namely these little cubes of what I thought were firm tofu. I searched and searched for the recipe but couldn't find anything that sounded like what I had eaten. So I did some investigating and discovered the name of the restaurant (by asking the person who had ordered the lunch - sleuthing 101, really) and that's when I first learned about paneer!
Paneer is a fresh, simple cheese native to South Asian cuisine. It's also unbelievably easy to make. On its own it's not very flavorful, but like tofu it takes on the flavors of the dish while adding a firm, interesting texture. While the dish I had at work was most likely mattar paneer, which is paneer with peas in a sweet and spicy sauce, this recipe is a variation on a pork curry with paneer added. If you don't feel like making paneer, you are lazy. No, you can substitute farmer's cheese or maybe a queso blanco.
+ 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
+ 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
+ 4.5 pound pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
+ 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
+ 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds, finely ground (optional)
+ 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
+ 1 teaspoon black pepper
+ 2 tablespoons curry powder
+ 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
+ 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
+ 2 teaspoons garam masala
+ 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
+ 1 can coconut milk
+ 1 cup water
+ 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
+ 2 carrots, medium dice
+ 1/2 onion, medium dice
+ 5 small-to-medium potatoes, quartered
+ 1 tomato, roughly chopped
+ 16 ounces paneer, cubed and sauteed in olive oil until lightly browned (see recipe below)
+ salt to taste
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot enough, add the cubed pork to the pan and brown the meat. You may need to do this in a few batches so you don't crowd the pan. Set the browned pork aside.
Add the chopped onion and garlic to the pan and cook until the shallots are just turning translucent, a few minutes. Now add all of the spices - fenugreek, red pepper flakes, black pepper, curry, ground ginger, ground mustard, garam masala and chili powder. Cook until just toasted - about a minute.
Add the coconut milk, water, tomato paste, carrots, potatoes and pork. Bring to a simmer and cook until the carrots and potatoes are tender. Add the chopped tomatoes and sauteed paneer and cook for about ten minutes longer. Season with salt to taste.
+ 8 cups (half-gallon) whole milk
+ 1 tablespoon pepper
+ 1/4 cup lemon juice
special equipment: cheesecloth
Line a colander with cheesecloth. If you want to save the whey, place the colander over a bowl.
Pour the milk and pepper into a large pot and bring to a boil, watching carefully to ensure it doesn't boil over. When it is boiling, turn the heat to low, add the lemon juice and begin stirring. The curds will start to separate from the whey. When the curds have completely separated (the remaining liquid should be a translucent yellow) take the pan off the heat.
Pour the curds and whey into the cheesecloth-lined colander. When the curds are cool enough to handle, gather the edges of the cheesecloth and squeeze as much of the liquid out of the curds as you can.
Wrap the curds and cheesecloth in a tight bundle and place onto a plate with a tall rim to catch the liquid that will be pressed out. Place a heavy plate on the bundle, pressing down to squeeze more liquid from the curds. Place in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight, until the cheese has formed into a solid mass. You can now cut the cheese into cubes and use in your favorite recipe.
For the above recipe, saute the cubes of paneer in about a tablespoon of olive oil until lightly browned. Set aside until ready to use.
makes about 16 ounces of cheese.