After ten, nay, maybe fifteen, years since my first attempt (in which Jacqui and I struggled with rennet and she ended up pouring whey all over my hands, as far as I remember), I have succeeded in creating cheese. Possibly. It is still sitting in the sink wrapped in cheesecloth being weighted down by a Dutch oven and a 28-ounce can of tomatoes. But it’s in there.
A couple days ago when I decided I wanted to make saag paneer, I intended it as a cheeseless (so just saag) side dish to red-lentil dal. Then I decided I absolutely had to make cheese, and then I decided not to bother with the dal, and then I decided not to even have it for dinner because it’s 9:19 p.m. and I am nowhere near finishing it. (I’m eating pizza and salad.)
Anyway. I came back from the laundromat, where I had been yelled at for not properly understanding the sign with their hours and for putting my clothes in to dry at an inopportune time vis-a-vis closing, and frantically began making cheese. A half gallon of milk went into the Dutch oven to boil; when I thought I spotted bubbles under the surface of the skin that had formed, I added three tbsp distilled white vinegar. Exactly what you ordinarily never want to happen to milk happened: it curdled.
This was around the time that my whole apartment started smelling terrible. I poured the curds and whey into a cheese-cloth-lined colander in the sink and raced out to get the laundry from the dryer.
Back in my apartment—having survived a number of dirty looks from the laundromat owners—I surveyed the curds. I tried to wrap them in the cheesecloth and discovered I had misread the directions, which told you to wrap them in layers of cheesecloth at least 24 inches square; for some reason I had interpreted this as 4×6 because I don’t really understand the concept of “square.” So that was dumb. Whatever. I just put them into a larger swath of cheesecloth. (So far this experiment has cost almost $5 in cheesecloth.) I set it up in the sink with the aforementioned weighting devices, and there it remains to this moment.
I then began to set up the spinach portion of things. I put a cup of water and approximately 1 3/4 lb frozen spinach (actually 26 ounces, and it was supposed to be fresh, not frozen) in a pot and turned on the heat. Then I learned that the water was supposed to be boiling first. Whatever, I was frazzled from hunger. Then I added about 2 1/2 tsp ground fenugreek. The recipe specified either 2 tbsp dried fenugreek or 2-3 handfuls fresh; I didn’t know what the conversion should be for ground, but didn’t want to overwhelm it with fenugreekiness. It smells really good and weird, though—like Indian food, and also a little like celeriac with a bite.
THEN I read I was also supposed to have added the hot pepper. I had bought a serrano pepper a few days ago, and it was very wilted and sad-looking in the fridge. I threw caution to the wind, got out a cutting board and my paring knife, and began chopping. Everything seemed fine. I put the diced pepper in the pot with the spinach. Then I noticed all the cuts on my hands were BUUUUURNING. It’s at least ten minutes later and my hands still burn a little. (Yes, I did wash them.)
The spinach is in for 25 minutes; right now I should be chopping things and toasting cumin seeds, but I am not, because I live on the edge.
It’s now 47 minutes later. In that time I have:
- eaten pizza and salad
- finished cooking and then blended the spinach using my immersion blender; I didn’t do it too long, as I wanted it to retain some texture
- added the cornmeal and cooked for a few minutes
- toasted cumin seeds (1 1/2 tsp in a dry skillet, toasted until browned; they smelled SO strong)
- removed the paneer from its sink-prison and marveled at it
- peeled an onion, noticed it was rotting inside, and threw it out
- peeled another onion and chopped half of it
- sauteed the onion in peanut oil while simultaneously peeling and grating ginger
- cooked onion, ginger, and tomato
- measured out salt, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon
For the tomatoes, I used diced—one cup turned out to be about a 14-ounce can. I was going to suggest that you drain the tomatoes, but in the ten minutes you’re supposed to cook them all the liquid evaporated anyway, so I suppose it does not much matter.
I’ve now added the tomatoes and spices to the spinach and it’s cooking gently. For the record, my hands still burn. Fuck you, serrano pepper. Actually it’s not that bad. I take it back. Also, it seriously smells exactly like saag paneer in here. So cool.
Adding the paneer now.
Now it is done. I am not hungry and don’t really want to try it. Sigh. If only I had a cat who liked saag paneer and didn’t have a sensitive digestive system… TMI? OK. 😀 Will update this later with a discussion of taste. Does paneer go bad overnight in the fridge?
If you don’t hear from me again, the answer is yes. Good night.
UPDATE: I am eating it now. It’s pretty good. The spices are not in balance, but I don’t know if that’s me or the recipe. It vacillates between tasting exactly like saag paneer and nothing like saag paneer. Sigh. I WANT BETTER FOOD.