Being one of the dominant elements of most vegetarian fares across the country, paneer has been a part and parcel of our culinary journey.
The fan fare and love that paneer aka cottage cheese enjoys in the Indian sub-continent makes it hard for us to believe that it wasn’t invented in our homeland. Add to that, the variety of dishes that are made using this milky item and you’ll be bound to wonder the same. Although I’m a hard-core non-vegetarian, I equally enjoy a paneer butter masala or a paneer 65. I remember how troubled my mother was when my college friends were coming home for lunch. She could have easily prepared her specials like chicken biryani, butter chicken and kebabs but the catch was that they were vegetarian.
The most common instinct when someone says that they are a vegetarian in India is to serve them all kinds of paneer. That’s exactly what happened then too. From the appetisers to the main course, there was at least one paneer dish on the menu. A great source of protein apart from grains and pulses, paneer was never really an Indian creation. In fact, the name paneer is also derived from panir, meaning types of cheese in Persian. The culture of consuming dairy products in India is long-standing. However, paneer was brought to the limelight by the Mughals in India.
They carried milk in the desserts in their leather bags which came in contact with the heat of the sand to give a mushy formulation. This was then spruced up to make paneer dishes. Some also believe that the Portuguese brought paneer to Bengal as Chenna, which later spread to other parts of the world. Ever since then, the realms of paneer have known no bounds with lip-smacking creations being brought to light, time and again.
Ditch the standard paneer curries and gravies for these delish starters that are easy to make and eat.
1. Garlic Paneer
Turn up the heat because spicy garlic paneer is the house. Small cubes of paneer are tossed in a spicy mixture of garlic, red chillies and onions. Seasoned with salt and vinegar, the mild tanginess of the starter tastes really well. The bright red and orange colour makes the dish very vibrant and a garnish of fresh coriander leaves lends it a distinct flavour.
2. Paneer 65
The crispy, fried cubes of paneer are spruced up with a special 65 masala that makes it taste as good as chicken 65. A popular South Indian appetiser, chicken can be substituted with paneer for vegetarians. Ginger-garlic paste, cornstarch and yoghurt are used to marinate the paneer cubes which are later deep-fried. Then the paneer is mixed with curry leaves, green chillies and cumin for the flavour.
3. Paneer Lollipops
You must have heard of chicken lollipops often, but how about some paneer lollipops for a change? Crumbled and grated paneer is mixed with mashed potatoes, chilli powder and chaat masala. This is then layered on sticks/skewers and coated with breadcrumbs. The sticks are fried until they turn dark brown. This is paired with a tangy tomato sauce or a mint and coriander chutney.
4. Crispy Paneer Cutlet
Move beyond the aloo and vegetable cutlets. This paneer cutlet is what dreams are made of. The paneer is grated and a mixture of capsicum, garam masala and chilli powder is made. Rice is added to the mixture for binding and to make the cutlets crispy. Serve with a mint mayo dip and there would be no looking back.