My first trip to India over 10 years ago introduced me to “paneer” – an Indian cheese that I since have eaten in many a curry dish.
After I got back to the States and figured out there weren’t a lot of options to buy paneer in stores near to me – let alone get it freshly made, I did my research on how to make it myself. And I was pleased to find it’s not hard at all!
Once I could make it, and since I’ve figured out that its very mild flavor can be improved with a little olive oil, a favorite spice mix, and a quick saute to get some caramelization on my cubes of paneer, I have been well and truly hooked.
I have tended to put my paneer on salad – like a cheesy crouton that adds a nice warm ingredient and a bit of protein and dairy to a cold veggie salad – perfect with a nice balsamic vinegar dressing. But putting two and two together – why couldn’t a little paneer on a slice of naan be a great addition to the savoury course of an afternoon tea?
My spice of choice to liven up my paneer has typically been Penzey’s Sandwich Sprinkle, which contains a mixture of coarse salt, garlic, black pepper, basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and marjoram (and you have to go a little easy with this mix because this particular one is salty – though I am a bit of a salt-aholic, so I like that!). But any of your favorite spices of choice would work well, so you can regulate the level of seasoning to suit your taste.
So that’s what I’ve created here – my adapted version of an Indian afternoon open-face tea “sandwich” that I find absolutely delectable.
It may be a bit “rough-and-ready” for a really refined afternoon tea, but perfect for having a couple of friends over for a nice pot of tea. And I mean, what could be better than a soft-ish, carmelized cheese on bread? I hope you think so too!
Steps to making these starts with the cheese…..
…followed by further preparing the cheese and the sandwich components before compiling the sandwiches.
Paneer-on-flatbread savoury tea bites
- 8 cups whole milk
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon
- Olive oil to coat the paneer slices before adding the spice mix and sauteing on the stove
- Your favorite spice/seasoning mix to sprinkle on the paneer slices (I use Penzey’s “Sandwich Sprinkle”)
- Your favorite flatbread (I like naan; in the US, one package of the Stonefire naan bread one finds in the bakery area can make about 20 small squares
- Leaf lettuce
DirectionsFor the Paneer: Take a large, double-layered square of your cheesecloth (at least a 16″x16″ square), and line a colander with the cloth; set it in the sink.
Prep the lemons before you heat the milk – cut and juice 2-4 lemons (depending on size of lemons) until you have 1/4 cup. Have ready next to the stove where you’ll heat the milk.
Put all of the milk in a large saucepan on the stove, bringing it to a boil over medium heat. You will need to stir frequently (but not constantly) to avoid burning the bottom; this will take a little while.
Once the milk hits a boil, add the lemon juice and turn the heat to low. Stir the milk gently – as soon as you add the lemon juice, you will start to see the curds and whey separating. Stir in a motion that gathers the curds together.
Pour the contents into the cheesecloth. Gently rinse with cold water to remove some of the lemon flavor. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth, twist the ball to squeeze out excess whey. Tying the opposite ends of the cheesecloth, hang this over the faucet and allow the cheese to drain for 5 minutes.
Once this has drained and is cool enough to handle, press it gently into a disc shape as you compact it (still in the cheesecloth). Put the disc on a salad plate, use another plate and something heavy to weigh it down (a couple of canned food items works well). Leave it in the fridge at least 30 minutes to chill and solidify.
The cheese is fairly firm and won’t melt away, so it may be cut into cubes or slices and sauteed without falling apart (though it will crumble a bit on the edges, so handle it gently).
To make the sandwiches:
Cut your flatbread into approx. 2″x2″ squares (or whatever shape you prefer). Tear off leafs of lettuce approx. the same size and set on your bread; set aside.
Take your paneer disk and slice fairly thinly (approx. 1/2″) and just slightly smaller than your bread. Set on a plate, drizzle a little olive oil over the pieces (coat both sides), then sprinkle with your spice/seasoning mix (also both sides).
Set in your saute pan and heat up on low, first one side until it’s lightly carmelized, then the other side the same. This goes quickly – by the time you have the first side done, you can turn it over, and turn off the heat for the second side to finish. You don’t want it too dark, or heated through too long or it will become rubbery.
It’s a bit nice and melty when eaten immediately, but still completely delicious when it’s cooled a bit (just not quite as melty).