In France there are 350 to 400 distinct types of French “Fromage” (cheese) grouped into eight categories. There can be many varieties within each type of cheese, leading some to claim closer to 1,000 different types of French cheese, but they are all called Fromage. In East India there is only one cheese and that is Paneer. The word “Paneer” even translates as “Cheese.” This simple difference in the meaning of a word led to some confusion with a customer one day.
A woman came in and picked up some Paneer. Then she looked around and noticed the Gouda.
Customer: Is this cheese?
Me: Yes it is!
Customer (looking doubtful): It is Paneer?
Me: No, that is Gouda.
Customer: It isn’t cheese?
Me: Yes, that is cheese.
Customer: Then it is Paneer?
Me: No, it is Gouda.
By this time I had visions of the Abbot and Costello routine, “Who’s on First,” and I started laughing. The patient woman must have had a similar thought because she started laughing too. To her, I was saying, “Gouda isn’t cheese, but it is cheese.”
I never heard of Paneer until John started making it and now it’s on the menu at our house at least once a week. One of my favorite ways to cook it is on the barbecue.
- 1 cup yogurt
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
- Salt to taste
- 10-12 wooden skewers, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
- 1 lb paneer
- 1 yellow pepper
- 1 orange pepper
- 1 red pepper
- 1 red onion
- Whisk together the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
- Cut the paneer, onion and peppers into bite size pieces. Place the onion and peppers in the bowl with the marinade and toss to coat. Cover and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- Once chilled, skewer the paneer and vegetable pieces and grill them on high heat for 10-15 minutes, turning frequently to brown evenly without scorching.
- Serve with basmati rice, or my favorite: saffron rice (recipe below).
- Saffron Rice
- 1/2 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
- 2 tablespoons very hot water
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup pine nuts (or substitute slivered almonds)
- 1 cup onion, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups white basmati rice
- 2 1/4 cups water
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Soften the saffron in the 2 tablespoons hot water in a small bowl.
Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium high heat. Fry the pine nuts, onion, and rice, stirring constantly, for 10 to 15 minutes or until the onions are soft and the rice is starting to toast. Add water, saffron, raisins, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and leave covered until the water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork.