Butter Paneer – Paneer Makhani

Paneer Makhani - Butter Paneer
Paneer makhani, shown with roasted cauliflower rice

Paneer Makhani is without a doubt one of my favorite dishes to make at home. It is good enough to make for company and simple enough to make on a weeknight. Like many Indian curries, the method essentially is to simmer garlic, ginger, tomatoes and spices in a pot and add a protein — in this case, protein-rich paneer cheese. The result is a rich, creamy and spicy tomato-based curry that will delight even the most avid carnivore.

The great thing about paneer is that it holds its shape and texture when cooked. It can be found in any Indian market (my favorite is the Spice Corner on Lexington and 29th) and in some supermarkets, including Whole Foods. The recipe below is delicious even with store bought paneer.

But homemade paneer makes this dish immeasurably better, and it turns out making paneer at home is a snap. Bring some milk to a boil and add vinegar. After 30 seconds, pour the now-separated milk through a cheesecloth set over a sieve, wrap it up, and stick in the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight. And done. The longer the cheese sits, the firmer it will get.

Our recipe for Paneer Makhani uses less butter than is traditional and substitutes milk for the usual cream. The result is healthier but, in my experience, no less delicious.  For a richer variant, I recommend this one by the ladies at ShowMeTheCurry.com (complete with an instructional video).

The cheese curds separate from the whey.

Homemade Paneer

5 cups milk (whole or 2%)
1/4 cup white vinegar

1.  Bring the milk to boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on it to prevent it from boiling over. Meanwhile, place a cheese cloth on top of a large sieve.

2.  When the milk has boiled, turn the heat off and add the vinegar. Stir for 30 seconds with a metal spoon as the milk starts to curdle.

3.  Hold the sieve with the cheesecloth over the sink and pour the milk curds through it, letting the whey drain into the sink. Place the sieve over a bowl and fold the ends of the cheesecloth over the cheese. Set something heavy on top of it (like a second bowl filled with water) and place the sieve and bowl in the refrigerator. Refrigerate until the cheese is solid, at least 1 hour or overnight.  Once unwrapped, the cheese is ready to use.

Yields approximately 1 pound.

After being refrigerated overnight, the paneer is solid.

Paneer Makhani
Serves 2

1 pound paneer
2 tablespoons ghee or butter
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1/4 teaspoon kashmiri chili powder or cayenne, or to taste
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 cup milk (whole or 2%)

1.  Cut the paneer into cubes and set aside. Heat the ghee or butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and saute, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add the chili powder, coriander and garam masala and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes.

2.  Add the tomatoes to the pot and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the paneer and mix gently, taking care not to break up the paneer. Add the milk and simmer until the sauce has reached the desired consistency, about 8 minutes. Serve with rice.

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