Shahi paneer, palak paneer, matar paneer, paneer bhurji- you might have deduced that one thing common among them is the regal vegetarian ingredient- ‘paneer’. In any vegetarian fare, a paneer (cottage cheese) dish is a must. It is adored by everyone across the subcontinent for being so versatile and delicious. However, our beloved paneer is not so Indian, as we might think of. To know this mind-boggling fact about paneer we need to go a few centuries back in time.

Paneer And Indian Connection

Indian cuisine is primarily surrounded by sapid vegetarian dishes. Humble paneer is definitely one crowning jewels on Indian vegetarian fare. Paneer is one of a kind cheese, having mild and milky taste which is mostly consumed by Indians only. The reason behind paneer's popularity in India, and not to other Asian countries is because of our strong tradition revolving around dairy products (Read: ghee, butter and lassi). Milk products have been prevalent in India from the time of the Indus Valley Civilization, when milk was coagulated with a variety of sour green leaves, barks, and berries. In ancient Vedic scriptures there is also mention of two types of cheese- one with pores and one without pores (similar to modern day cheeses).

How Paneer Came To Life?

The word ‘paneer’ is said to have originated from Persian word ‘panīr’, which means ‘type of cheese’. There are few other etymologies which sound alike and almost have the same meanings- ‘Peynir’ in Turkish and ‘Panir’ in Armenian. Middle Eastern countries have played an huge influence in shaping India's cuisine. Once again, they might have played a huge role in giving us another detectable food. According to a popular legend, paneer was a creation of an accidental invention, when Mongols were out on a long trip and were carrying milk in their Mushkis (bags made of rawhide). Their long journey through the desert turned the milk into paneer, due to the surface tension between the rennet in the leather, and heat of the desert. Later, this delicacy was brought to India by Mughals and was mixed with sundry aromatic Indian spices and vegetables. There is another belief that paneer was first prepared in Bengal (India) by Portuguese around the 17th century and named it as ‘chenna’. There were various versions of cottage cheeses all around Southern-Asia like- Dhakai ponir from Dhaka and Surti paneer, also known as topli nu panir, among Parsis in Surat and Mumbai. Making paneer out of milk is of course a very easy feat, that Indians may have been experimenting with in ancient times, but the paneer that we know of today was developed in the Medieval times, even its versatility was gauged somewhere around this time. Paneer became a popular ingredient for curries, bread stuffing, koftas, dessert. Something that hasn't changed till today. 

How To Make Paneer?

Paneer is very easy to prepare, it is made by curdling hot milk using lemon juice, vinegar or citric acid. The result variant is a fluffy and mushy white-coloured cheese, which doesn't crumble easily and is firm in texture. You can slice them in cubes and can gorge upon them anyway you like. Here’s the simple method of how you can prepare paneer at home.