Paneer–the Best Food You’ve Never Heard of

Paneer…the very word makes my mouth water and my stomach happy. If you’re familiar with Indian cuisine, you might know about paneer. If you don’t, though, then you’re seriously missing out.

I used to go to Indian restaurants just to order a fantastic, steaming-hot plate of paneer butter masala or mutter paneer. I couldn’t afford to do it often, because $15 is a little steep for just one dish, but it was worth it. Now, though, I can cook the same things in my own kitchen for the same deliciousness but a much smaller cost.

Why? Because I finally found out how to get and cook paneer!

Often called “cottage cheese” on Indian menus, paneer is just about as far away from American cottage cheese as you can get. It’s a solid, firm cheese that is made from thick curds, and it softens when cooked but holds its shape in cubes. If it sounds a little hard to describe, it is. Just trust me that it’s delicious.

It’s used in tons of (mainly vegetarian) Indian dishes, and it can be crumbled, grated, or cubed for rice pulaos, curries, or Indian desserts. In short, it’s the miracle food.

Most Indian grocery stores carry paneer in packaged blocks of about 12 ounces. You’ll find it refrigerated, and the price should be between $4 and $7 for a 12-ounce block. That might seem on the pricey side, but one block will be enough for at least three meals.

If the paneer you find is crumbly and doesn’t hold its shape very well, that’s okay—it’ll taste just as good. Once you get your hands on some, you can add it to curries or rice puddings or combine it with vegetables. The best paneer recipe I’ve found so far is here, although it does require picking up a couple of distinctively Indian ingredients (garam masala and kasuri methi). This is a great step-by-step recipe with clear photographs for mutter paneer, and this is a snack with a few simpler ingredients (you can sub regular flour for the chickpea flour).

Once you’ve tasted paneer, odds are you’ll be hooked. If a block is too much for you to use all at once, extra paneer can be frozen for months at a time and will still taste fresh and delicious when you thaw it and cook with it again.

Now that’s what I call a superfood.

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