Mutter Paneer: Homemade Cheese with Peas
About a week ago, I tried making mutter paneer for the first time. Mutter paneer, a popular Indian dish of fresh cheese cubes and peas in a tomato-based sauce, requires many small steps, and the paneer needs to sit overnight for best results. As I rarely plan out meals more than a few hours ahead of time (and that’s only when I get distracted at work and am daydreaming about 5pm), I’d never made it before. But it’s one of my favorites and as I’d learned on a recent trip home, not that hard apart from the planning aspect. So when I got a special birthday request to make it, it ended up being a good chance to try it out. Once I made the paneer, I loosely followed this recipe.
3 cups milk
1 tbsp distilled white vinegar
Cheesecloth and strainer
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp cooking oil
3/4 cup peas, room temperature
1 large white onion, chopped
1 large or 2 small tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
1/2 green chili, finely chopped (add more if desired)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional)
Dash of jeera/cumin powder
Dash of turmeric powder
Dash of salt
Cilantro to garnish (optional)
Boil 3 cups of milk on the stove for about 10 minutes, until it begins billowing out and forming a film. Add 1 tbsp distilled white vinegar and stir until the milk starts to form solids and the whey becomes clear, taking care to scrape the solids off the side of the pot. If it is not very clear, add a little more vinegar.
Place two layers of cheesecloth at the bottom of the strainer. Pour the milk mixture into the cheesecloth-lined strainer. Bundle and gather up the cheesecloth, being careful to avoid the heat, and place the bundle on a plate. Push down gently to get the water out. Put a weight on top of the bundle and set aside for 3 hours at room temperature.
Remove the cheesecloth and wrap paneer in one layer of absorbent paper towel, covered by one layer of aluminum foil. Wrap tightly. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
For mutter paneer:
Cube and lightly saute the paneer in butter until it is slightly browned. Set aside.
In a medium pot, heat the cooking oil, and add onions. Sprinkle with salt and saute for about 5 minutes. Mix in ginger, green chili, garlic, cumin and turmeric, and saute for a minute. Add tomatoes and 1 tbsp water and saute for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Use a potato masher to blend the mixture into a coarse sauce.
Add peas and 1 cup of water. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add paneer and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. If necessary, add flour or cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Season with chopped cilantro and serve. I served the mutter paneer with store-bought naan and raita, a yogurt sauce with cumin, salt, pepper, and cilantro.