I found ginger at the farmers’ market.
Ginger?! I didn’t even know it was possible to grow ginger in the Midwestern United States, but yes, apparently with a bit of planning we can do it. And so, the first thing that I did was to break off some of the root to plant in a pot to keep through the winter (indoors).
I also froze a large piece wrapped in a bit of paper. Whenever I need ginger, it can be taken out to grate as much as necessary.
Of course, this inspired some meal planning to utilize the fresh ginger. I decided to try my hand at my first Indian dish, which of course (!) led me to make my first paneer cheese. After becoming accustomed to making ricotta, it really wasn’t so difficult (and in fact, making cheese is a lot easier than you’d think!). And just in case you’ve never had it, paneer cheese is one traditionally found in Indian food that has a firm texture and doesn’t easily melt or crumble in your meal.
To make paneer, you’ll only need two ingredients:
- 1/2 gallon of milk (preferably non-homogenized and from local, grass-fed cows)
- 2-3 Tbs. lemon juice or white wine vinegar
Also, make sure to have a colander and some cheesecloth or other fine-woven fabric. Line the colander with the cheesecloth, and place this in a bowl if you’re interested in capturing the whey. Otherwise, this can be done over the sink.
To begin, heat the milk slowly over medium-high heat. Bring the milk to a boil and then turn off the heat. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice/vinegar.
Stir the lemon juice into the milk until you begin seeing the formation of curds. Keep stirring gently while the curds are separating from the whey. If separation does not seem to be occurring, add an additional tablespoon or two of lemon juice/vinegar.
Let the mixture sit, while stirring gently periodically until the process has finished (around 20-3o minutes). Pour the curds and whey into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Let the whey separate out until the cloth is cool enough to handle. Gather the edges and squeeze out excess liquid. At this point, you have cheese that you could use as ricotta or cottage cheese.
To make this into paneer, however, this cheesy goodness needs to be flattened and compressed under something heavy. To do this, find something around the house, like say, a pumpkin, and put that on top of a plate to press the cheese.
Go wander around outside for awhile, or use the top of the ginger as a cat toy while you wait for this to finish setting (at least 20 minutes, but an hour is best).
After unwrapping the cheese, you’ll have a little block that can be cut into cubes.
There you have it — fresh, homemade paneer cheese! And if you’re interested, I used it in the following recipe taken from the book Global Vegetarian Cooking that I received as a present from my brother and his fiance last Christmas.
Aloo-mattar (Potato and Pea Curry)
Isn’t it amazing that even with global cuisine, you can still depend on local, fresh ingredients? (And hopefully you also used to have a roommate that left behind some Indian spices!)
The ingredients for this dish include:
- 1 pound potatoes, diced (I used about 3/4 of this as sweet potatoes)
- 1 cup peas (frozen fresh in the Springtime!)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 Tsp. chili powder
- 2 Tsp. fresh ginger, chopped (there it is!)
- 1 Tsp. turmeric
- 1/2 Tsp. ground coriander
- 1 cup hot water
- 2-4 tomatoes, chopped
- 3 Tbs. yogurt (DIY tutorial coming soon!)
- 1 Tsp. garam masala
- 2 Tbs. fresh cilantro/coriander, chopped
- Start by blending the onion with the chili powder and ginger to make a paste.
- Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the blended paste for 1 minute before adding turmeric and ground coriander. Cook for 1-2 additional minutes while stirring.
- Put in the potatoes, hot water, and salt. Cover and bring to a boil for 3-5 minutes before adding the peas and tomatoes. Stir these in and continue to simmer, covered, for 5 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat.
- Blend the yogurt with a little water and add to the curry. (If you also went ahead and made paneer cheese, this is a good time to add as many cubes of it as you’d like!) Stir, and sprinkle with garam masala and fresh cilantro/coriander leaves.