Paneer from scratch

It’s hard not to love paneer–the Indian ricotta–unless you’re vegan of course, in which case you have my eternal gratitude for making the world a better place.  While paneer is readily available in most Indian groceries, it comes frozen and loses some of its texture by the time it gets to you. By contrast, homemade paneer is remarkably soft, silky, and fresh. I’m a huge fan. It’s also very easy and quick to make, requiring just a couple of ingredients: a muslin cheese cloth, some white vinegar (or lemon juice) and whole milk (preferably organic). The photos for this are not going to be very pretty, but the results will be! This recipe makes about 200 grams of paneer (about 7 oz).  What you don’t use, you can wrap in plastic and keep in the fridge for up to a week.


Prep time: 20 minutes


1 cheese cloth

A large strainer

½ gallon whole milk (preferably organic)

1/3 cup lemon juice or distilled white vinegar

A pinch of salt

Heat the milk on high heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir occasionally to make sure that the milk doesn’t stick to the bottom. In the meantime, fold your cheese cloth in half and place on top of a strainer.


When the milk starts bubbling and rising up, turn the heat down to low.

Add the lemon juice, pinch of salt, and stir once or twice.  Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes. You’ll see curdles or chunks forming as the whey and cheese separate.


Strain everything into the cheese cloth, letting the whey drain out, preferably in a pot under the strainer (There are many uses for leftover whey and its packed full of nutrients, so you could keep it, if you want.   Here are some ideas:


Squeeze out any excess water. Place a heavy pot, such as a dutch oven, on top of the cheese cloth and let sit. Leave this to sit for another 10-15 minutes.


Gently squeeze out any water from the cheese cloth and gently flip over the brick of paneer.  Its ready to use!



Going Analog Part II: Thai “red” curry paste

This past summer, my friend Brenda and I took a Thai cooking class at Durham Spirits Company, which hosts cooking classes and other events in a beautiful historical house in Old North Durham. There were about eight of us cooking at different stations in the spacious kitchen, and afterwards, we all sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor—which was honestly the best Thai food I have had since moving to the Triangle.

One of the menu items that we prepped during the class was a “red” curry paste. The red is in quotation marks because the paste is not actually red; the color comes from artificial food coloring that is added when the stuff is mass-produced. The actual color is more of a deep brown rather than a bright red. You need a bunch of ingredients for this paste, but fortunately you don’t need to chop or mince anything too finely because its all going into the food processor.  This paste is incredibly aromatic and will transform your Thai dishes. However, this stuff is seriously spicy (loaded with red chilies), so handle with care. A little goes a long way!

Coming up soon…two different Thai curries that use this paste.

Note: to keep this purely vegetarian, replace the shrimp paste with soy sauce.

Step 3: dry roast your shrimp paste, coriander seeds and cumin seeds
Step 3: dry roast your shrimp paste, coriander seeds and cumin seeds
The final product: delicious, aromatic, homemade curry paste…for your future enjoyment!


(Courtesy Katie Coleman, Durham Spirits Company)

Prep time: 40 minutes

Makes: about 2 cups of paste


1 cup red chilies (dried is fine, without the stems)

1 tsp. cumin seeds

2 stalks lemongrass

½ cup galangal, roughly sliced

¼ cup garlic, roughly chopped

1 tbsp. shrimp paste

1 ½ tbsp. coriander seed

1 tbsp. coriander stems, chopped

¼ cup shallots, chopped

Zest of one lime

1 cup water (use the water that the chilies are soaking in)

Generous grind of black pepper

1 tsp. salt

  1. Boil some water. Soak the red chilies in the hot water for about 15 minutes.
  2. Wrap 1 tbsp. of the shrimp paste (warning: this stuff smells rank, like a million shrimps died to make this paste) in a small piece of aluminum foil (Make a little boat).
  3. Into a dry saucepan, add in the shrimp paste in its aluminum boat, dry coriander seeds, and cumin seeds on medium heat, letting them brown but not burn.
  4. To prepare the lemongrass, remove the tough, outer layers of the stalk and cut off about 5” inches off the top (not the root area). Give your lemongrass a few good whacks along its spine and chop into about 1″ pieces.
  5. Roughly chop the galangal, shallots, garlic, and coriander stems. (Don’t bother peeling the galangal.  As Nigella says, the skin is just more fiber!)
  6. Using a slotted spoon, being careful not to touch the red chilies with your bare hands, transfer the chilies to a food processor. Save the soaking water.
  7. Transfer all the other ingredients to the food processor as well. Add the salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Add 1 cup of the soaking water.
  8. Process to a fine paste, letting the processor go for a few minutes. Warning: the grinding process is going to release very strong aromas—including red chilies—into the air. Be sure to cover the opening of the food processor so that you protect your throat.
  9. Transfer your paste to a storage container. Refrigerate or use right away!


Going Analog

The (re)turn to analog has taken the food, music, art, and culture scene by storm. The massive popularity of analog synthesizers in electronic music has its, well, analog, in cooking as well, with artisanal edibles, the turn to canning, the move to slow cooking, etc. The movement has its critics—it can be elitist, bourgeois, and obnoxious. These things bother me as well, along with the fact that the basic contradiction that DIY, back-to-basics, Etsy things cost a fortune and ultimately rest on increased consumption. (This is, of course, nothing new, and speaks to the way capitalism hungrily incorporates its own critiques. See the history of punk). At the same time, the base impulse—the desire to return to simplicity, freshness, and homemade things—seems not entirely unworthy.

I’ve been reluctant to make hummus from scratch (i.e. the analog way), probably because, like you, I tried it a few times and it came out grainy, thick, and weirdly colored, and because its not atrociously expensive at the grocery store and is of passable (not great) quality, and because the only decent recipe I found called for removing the skins of individual chickpeas one by one and the thought of that made me want to put my eyes out. Thus, there is much in the ‘against making hummus at home, from scratch,’ column. I understand.

However, after impulsively buying a 5-kilo bag of chickpeas from the Indian store, I decided, with trepidation, to rethink my approach and to go for it. I found a recipe that was definitely analog by my standards, requiring 12 hours of foresight (the chickpeas have to be soaked overnight or all day), which is not usually how my cooking happens temporally speaking. However, the recipe saved me from shelling individual chickpea heads and for that, I was already grateful. That is, until I scooped up the luscious, creamy deliciousness that is—and can be—hummus. I couldn’t stop licking the spoon I used to scoop this up with. This is so, so, so good. A revelation.




Prep time: 12 hours+

Serves: 6


1 ¼ cup dried chickpeas

1 tsp. baking soda

6 ½ cups water

1 cup tahini

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 cloves garlic, crushed

6 ½ tablespoons ice cold water


Good quality olive oil, to serve (optional)

Zatar, as garnish (optional)

  1. The night before, put the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover them with cold water at least twice their volume. Leave to soak overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the chickpeas. Place a medium saucepan over high heat and add the drained chickpeas and baking soda. Cook for about three minutes, stirring constantly. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cook, skimming off any foam and any skins that float to the surface. The chickpeas will need to cook for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the type and freshness, sometimes even longer. Once done, they should be very tender, breaking up easily when pressed between your thumb and finger, almost but not quite mushy.
  3. Drain the chickpeas. You should have roughly 3 2/3 cups now. Place the chickpeas in a food processor and process until you get a stiff paste. Then, with the machine sill running, add the tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Finally, slowly drizzle in the ice water and allow it to mix for about five minutes, until you get a very smooth and creamy paste.
  4. Transfer the hummus to a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. If not using straightaway, refrigerate until needed. Make sure to take it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving. Optionally, to serve, top with a layer of good quality olive oil. This hummus will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days.