- 1 What is Paneer?
- 2 Best Paneer Alternatives
- 3 Choosing the Best Alternative: General Recommendations
- 4 How to Make Paneer at Home
- 5 Conclusion
We have to say that we are super happy that you joined us. Because today we want to talk about a specific type of food that we find to be a real delicacy. The royalty among cottage cheeses – paneer! Or, more precisely, paneer replacement options. Have you tried paneer? If you went to an Indian or Pakistani restaurant at least once, then you were probably offered a palak paneer, right? In our opinion, it is one of the best things we ever put in our mouths. Would you agree?
However, as we all know, this past year and a half of traveling are not as simple as it used to be. Better yet, it isn’t simple at all, especially when you want to go to those parts of the world where new strains of SARS CoV 2 keep circulating. So, during all these months we were preparing various delicious meals from all over the world. The idea was that if we cannot move, we can at least find some comfort in traveling through tastes.
However, when it comes to Indian food things, got a bit more challenging. The problem was that in our city, like probably in many other places, Indians have small shops, and they had to keep them closed for many months because of lockdowns and restrictions. And, in super and hypermarkets, it is not possible to find anything except basic spices food. So, there was no trace of paneer.
And how it usually happens, the more challenging it was to find it, the stronger were our cravings. Hence, we figured we need to find something that will serve as a good alternative to paneer. Honestly, we were skeptical at first, but this all changed when we began our search. It turned out that there are plenty of paneer substitute options out there. After testing and tasting some of them, we were so thrilled that we decided to write this text and share our findings. So, let us talk about feta, haloumi, Mexican queso blanco, mozzarella, panela cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta, and Circassian (Adyghe) cheese.
What is Paneer?
The first part of our text was more for people who know what paneer is and are also looking for a paneer cheese substitute. However, some of you may have no clue what paneer is, to begin with, and this section is for you. And before we move on, we want to tell you that you shouldn’t worry if you don’t know about it. There are plenty of strict meat-eaters who don’t pay a lot of attention to cheese dishes!
Paneer is a phenomenal Indian cheese made of curdled milk and some fruit or vegetable acid. Lemon juice is the most common addition. Some are wondering if paneer cottage cheese?! Yes, we can say that it is an Indian variation of cottage cheese. What is characteristic of paneer is that it is soft, unaged cheese. Interestingly, it never melts. You can eat it cooked, grilled, or fried. It can be part of a dish or eaten alone. Some people also like to eat it for breakfast. So what does paneer taste like? Paneer has a pretty mild taste, somewhat similar to ricotta or standard cottage cheese. It is made without salt, so some people describe it as bland when eaten alone. The curious thing about this cheese is that it is very healthy and rich in different nutrients such as protein, vitamin A, calcium, and iron.
Paneer Nutritional Information per 100g:
|Total fat||26.9 g|
|Saturated fat||18.1 g|
|Trans fatty acid||<0.1 g|
|Total Carbohydrates||6.1 g|
|Sugar (Added)||0.0 g|
|Vitamin A||210 mcg|
The origins of paneer are not clear. Among various theories, the oldest one is taking us back to the sixteenth century, during the periods of Persian and Afghani rulers. According to this theory, these rulers introduced cheese to Southeast Asia. Whatever are its origins, it is undeniable that today paneer is the cornerstone of Indian cuisine.
Paneer Culinary Uses
|Cook with vegetables||It is the most common way to use it. We already know meals like matar paneer, palak paneer, etc. But in general, you can combine it with any vegetable. It gives a nice creamy touch to the veggies.|
|Knead into a dough||People have been doing it for ages. It goes well with the savory and sweet dough.|
|Grill||Since it doesn’t melt, you will get a perfect grilled cheese|
|Paneer Bhurji||It is common Indian street food, and it is pretty simple to make|
|Pizza, sandwiches, wraps||You can put in a sandwich or wrap or use it as a pizza topping|
|Filling||It gives a fantastic flavor to bread rolls.|
|Deep-fried||Same as when grilled, it has a fantastic flavor, but it doesn’t change the shape.|
|Salads||It is an excellent addition to any salad|
|Dessert||It is also a great addition to desserts|
As we mentioned, paneer comes with numerous health benefits. It doesn’t, of course, mean that you can eat loads of it every day. But if you it moderately, it will be good for you.
- Promotes weight loss: Cottage cheese, including paneer, promotes weight loss because it has low-calorie content. Casein, which is a standard protein found in milk and milk products creates, the feeling of fullness and decreases appetite. Some studies show that calcium also promotes weight loss when combined with exercise.
- Decreases the risk of breast cancer: As we know, breast cancer is one of the leading cancers in women. Women under 50 are especially at risk. Paneer is rich in vitamin D and calcium, which are effective in breast cancer prevention.
- Improves muscle strength: Casein constitutes about 80 percent of paneer. This protein is critical for muscle building. The amino acids are released to the muscles during the night, which prevents tissue from tearing.
- It is good for people with diabetes type 2: Studies show that dairy regularly can decrease the risk of developing insulin resistance for some people. Calcium is also known to have the potential to reduce the risk of insulin resistance. That means that people who are eating paneer have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Best Paneer Alternatives
We all know and love feta, don’t we? But, who knew that it is an alternative to paneer?! Feta is a Greek cheese made from sheep or a mixture of sheep and goat milk. It has aged for about four to six weeks. Some people call it pickled cheese. As it gets firmer, feta becomes saltier and richer in taste. It comes with a sharp flavor and creamy texture. It is an excellent paneer substitute for appetizers, salads, and side dishes.
Feta looks crumbly and has small holes.
Haloumi is one of our favorite cheeses. It is made of sheep’s milk or a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk. Modern versions can sometimes be made of cow milk. Originally halloumi comes from Cyprus, but it is popular all over the Middle East. By appearance, it resembles mozzarella, but it is a lot saltier. You can use it as a paneer substitute for grilling. You can also make thin slices using a cheese slicer and add them to salad, either raw or pan-fried. But keep in mind that halloumi is at its best when cooked.
Mexican Queso Blanco
Queso Blanco means white cheese in Spanish. It is a fresh, mild cheese with a slightly tangy taste. It is a very soft cheese, so it is used as a cream cheese substitute. Same as paneer, it is simple to make. You only need milk and acid, such as lemon or lime juice. Generally, people use cow milk to make Queso Blanco, but it is also possible to make it by mixing cow‘s and goat’s milk. It is also one of the cheeses that soften but doesn’t melt when you cook it. Salads taste amazing when you add this cheese on top. You can also use it as a topping for different meals. Finally, it also tastes fabulous when you eat it with fruit salad.
We know that mozzarella tastes magically on pizza. But can you use it as a substitute for paneer? Of course, you can! And it is necessary to know that it works wonderfully. This Italian queen of cheeses rightfully gained international fame. It is known for its milky flavor. It is made from the milk of water buffalo, which is why you can often find it as mozzarella buffala. Fresh mozzarella is one of the healthiest cheeses you can find as it is high in nutrients and low in sodium and fat. Unlike other paneer alternatives, mozzarella melts, which is why it is a fantastic pizza topping.
The cottage is low in fat and very rich in protein cheese. In that respect, it is very similar to paneer. It can be made from nonfat, low fat, or regular milk. It is a curd cheese with a smooth texture. The taste is pretty mild, which is why it is used in many meals. Unlike paneer, which is made by pressing, cottage cheese is made by draining. It is high in nutrients, including vitamins B, phosphorus, etc. You can use it exactly as you would use paneer. The only difference is that you need to adjust the salt level because cottage cheese contains it while paneer doesn’t.
Panela is another Mexican cheese that we can use as a paneer substitute. It is molded in a basket which is why it is called Queso canasta. It is a fresh cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk. Panela cheese has a creamy texture and milky taste. When you cook, it will become softer, but it won’t melt. It can be baked or pan-fried.
Here we have yet another Italian cheese. It is a soft grainy cheese. Ricotta is also a healthy type of cheese because it is rich in calcium and low in sodium. Many people like ricotta because of its versatility. It can be part of savory foods like sandwiches and wraps. But it is also excellent for desserts. Ricotta melts quickly, so it is not the best option to make a curry or a soup.
Circassian (Adyghe) cheese
This type of cow cheese was born in the Northern Caucasus, which is now a part of Russia. This cheese is not very wet and it does not melt while baking or frying. It goes wonderful in raw condition in various salads and can be dried in the oven or in the sun.
Choosing the Best Alternative: General Recommendations
Although it is simple to make this cheese, it is not always simple to find a perfect substitute. That is because it is indeed unique in many aspects. But when you can’t find it and don’t have time to make it, you can still be satisfied if you follow these requirements.
If you are looking for the most similar cheese, look for Queso Blanco or Cottage cheese.
The most versatile options are, of course, halloumi and mozzarella.
As we mentioned, vegans can use tofu or make their version with one of the vegetal milk options.
How to Make Paneer at Home
The great thing about paneer is that it is easy to make. As we mentioned, you basically need milk and fruit acid, like lemon or lime juice. Some people asked is paneer vegan? No, it’s not because it’s made of milk. By texture, it is similar to tofu, so you can use it as a vegan paneer variation. But also you can make your own version using vegetal milk.
- Pour a liter of milk into a pot and cook it on medium heat. Let it come to a boil while stirring it occasionally.
- Once the milk comes to a boil, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice
- When the milk starts to curdle, stop adding the acid and leave it to finish the process
- Drain the curdled milk through a clean cloth.
- Rinse, so it doesn’t have the taste of acid.
- When done, press it with a cloth to squeeze the water
- Wrap it, and put a heavy object. Leave it like that for an hour or two.
- Take the paneer out of the cloth and use it as per your preference.
That is all for today, folks! Paneer is unique, and many people think that there isn’t anything that can be an alternative to the delicious taste it gives to Indian meals. However, as you can see, there are plenty of paneer substitute options that we can use in situations when this king of cheeses isn’t available! Have you ever tried replacing paneer with some of these options? What were your experiences? Maybe you used some cheese that we didn’t mention?