Making Fresh Cheese at Home Is Worth It. This Recipe Proves It.

On top of these minor hassles, Pandya was aware that diners wouldn’t be keen to pay much for paneer, which lacks the built-in luxury status of European cheeses served in restaurants. ‘‘You’re willing to pay $16 for burrata without blinking an eye,’’ says his business partner, Roni Mazumdar, ‘‘but will you pay that for paneer?’’ I would, if I could only get to the restaurant. Instead, I used a flashlight, on my hands and knees, to rummage under the counter for my paneer press — a straight-sided, aluminum sieve that looks exactly like a small, perforated cake tin. I was both annoyed that I had to look so hard for it and thrilled to have such a good excuse to use it.

I washed the press, lined it with a clean dishcloth and brought a gallon of whole milk up to a boil to start the process. After adding the vinegar and turning off the heat, I stirred gently, almost stroking the milk with a wooden spoon, letting it sink down into the pot like a paddle. The curds started to pull apart from the whey, and the liquid turned a pale, cloudy, yellowish green color in seconds. The curds were big and soft, floating dreamily through the pot. As I poured the pot through a colander, they wobbled together as the whey drained and the steam rushed up. After a few minutes, they looked positively cheeselike — a soft, milky-scented ball but still not quite firm enough to slice and cook. I put a can of tomatoes on top of the press, just for a few minutes, to help give the paneer a shape, then unwrapped it while it was still soft and fragile.

Paneer this fresh, and still warm, I could eat with a spoon. But I wanted to make the tikka I’d been hearing about, or at least a version of it. In a small food processor, I blended a thick, yogurty marinade seasoned with garlic, ginger and chiles, lots of carom seeds and some garam masala, and slathered the paneer with it, laying the pieces on slices of red onion. Roasted, then broiled for just a few minutes, the paneer started to char on the edges, and the onions curled and browned. At the table, I dusted it with unripe mango powder and chile, squeezed lime juice on top and tucked the pieces into buttered buns. It wasn’t exactly Pandya’s paneer, but it was tender, creamy, hot and tangy — a very good reason to move the paneer press to a more prime position in my kitchen, to remind me to use it more often.

Recipe: Paneer Ajwaini Tikka (Marinated Roasted Paneer)

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