Want to spice up your meat-free curry? Try making your own paneer

This easy-to-make fresh cheese is sure to be a hit with vegetarians. Cookbook author Trish van der Nest shares a recipe for making it, and teams it with beetroot to make a mouth-watering curry

30 September 2020 - 14:47 By Hilary Biller
Paneer.
Paneer.
Image: 'Home Food'

If you are a vegetarian and the thought of another butternut roasted over the coals leaves you stone cold, why not try making your own paneer, an easy-to-make fresh cheese that originated in India, to make a delicious meat-free curry.

In her recently released cookbook, Home Food, (LAPA Publishers), Trish van der Nest shares an easy recipe to make paneer at home and a deliciously unusual beetroot curry with paneer.

Says Van der Nest, “Paneer is a form of cottage cheese eaten in curries. It can be soft or firm. I learnt how to make paneer when I attended North Indian cooking classes with Alexis Kriel who lived in India. Alexis presents vegetarian Indian cooking classes at her home in Athol in Johannesburg. She taught us a foolproof method and there is nothing nicer than making your own paneer to add to curries.”

HOMEMADE PANEER

Ingredients:

2 litres milk

60ml (¼ cup) fresh lemon juice

Trish van der Nest's book 'Home Food'.
Trish van der Nest's book 'Home Food'.
Image: Supplied

Method:

  1. Heat the milk in a large pot on the stove.
  2. Bring the milk to boiling point, then remove it from the stove and add the lemon juice. The curds will immediately start separating from the whey.
  3. Prepare a strainer with a muslin cloth.
  4. Remove the curds from the whey using a slotted spoon and place onto the muslin cloth over the strainer.
  5. Once you have removed all the curds, draw up the sides of the cloth around them and rinse them through the cloth in cold water.
  6. Tie the paneer within the cloth and then flatten it by placing a heavy weight on top – I usually use the pot with the whey in it.
  7. Leave the curds to stand like this for at least 1 to 2 hours to firm up. Once you are ready to use the paneer, cut it into squares.

Cook's tip: You can also deep-fry the paneer before adding it to curries.

BEETROOT CURRY WITH PANEER

“I love any excuse to use paneer and this curry is a combination of two of my very favourite ingredients. It’s also a real winner for vegetarians. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients! My son Matt loves to make this curry for his digs mates at UCT,” says Van der Nest.

Beetroot curry with paneer.
Beetroot curry with paneer.
Image: 'Home Food'

Paneer:

250g firm paneer, cubed (available at good spice shops if you prefer)

Juice of 2 limes and the zest of 1 lime

1 tbsp garam masala

3 tbsp coconut oil

Curry:

4 tbsp coconut oil

5 whole cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tsp mustard seeds

2 red onions, sliced

1-2 fresh chillies, deseeded and sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tbsp garam masala

2 tbsp cumin seeds, dry-toasted and crushed slightly

1 tbsp ground coriander

800g raw beetroot, peeled and cubed

1 tin (400g) coconut milk, plus extra if necessary

A handful of fresh coriander leaves, optional

Method:

  1. Marinate the paneer in the lime juice and garam masala, tossing to coat. Set aside for half an hour or longer if possible.
  2. For the curry, heat the 4 tbsp oil in large saucepan and add the cloves, cinnamon sticks and mustard seeds. Warm gently until the mustard seeds start to pop. Then add the red onion and cook until the onion is soft and lightly browned.
  3. Add the chilli, garlic, garam masala, cumin and ground coriander to the saucepan and cook slowly for another 5 minutes.
  4. Add the beetroot and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  5. Add the coconut milk.
  6. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes or until the beetroot is tender. I find this takes longer than you’d think – beetroot can take quite a long time to soften. Just make sure it does not catch at the bottom and, if necessary, add some extra coconut milk. Alternatively, roast the beetroot in a 180°C oven for 60-90 minutes.
  7. In the final 10 minutes of cooking the beetroot, heat another pan and fry the paneer in 3 tbsp coconut oil.
  8. Serve the curry with the paneer scattered over, along with some fresh coriander leaves if you wish.