Food Blogger Shantini Rajkumar speaks of the omni present paneer that everyone seems to love

Almost every country has it’s version of cheese. As man evolved so did the methods of getting sustenance from food. The concept of preserving, curing, fermenting and pickling made way for an entirely different kind of food and food habits. An accidental curdling of milk was how yoghurt was discovered and that led to the discovery of cheese. In this final of the series on cheese, let’s take a look at the simpler cheeses that do not require aging but are just as popular and equally delicious - the many kinds of Cottage Cheese.

Cottage cheese simply meant left-over milk in homes or cottages that was converted to cheese by a simple process of adding a souring agent like citric acid, yoghurt or sometimes a complex group of enzymes called rennet. The kinds of cottage cheese that require no aging process are quark, mascarpone and our very own paneer. While Mascarpone is made wholly from cream and is high in fat, paneer is made from milk and the percentage of fat varies depending on the kind of milk used. It is an excellent source of protein and it lends itself beautifully to both sweet as well as savoury dishes. From wholesome Punjabi gravies and grilled platters to baked cheesecakes and fruity confections, paneer is a firm favourite with most Indians. Mascarpone cheese is now available in plastic tubs in our supermarkets and once opened it has a short shelf life. It lends a creamy smooth texture to desserts similar to that of cream cheese.

Quark is very commonly used in Germany. I’ve always seen it as part of the breakfast buffet, where the low fat version is used as a spread or as an accompaniment with breads and cold cuts. Sometimes cream is added to quark and this is often used in desserts with fruit or fruit pulp. It usually contains no salt, is white and has a curd like consistency.

Most restaurants in Coimbatore offer at least one version of a paneer dish. The people that leap at the variety of paneer dishes on offer, are usually the children. Paneer tikka, paneer butter masala, chilli paneer, hariyali paneer, the kids know the names by heart. Paneer is a huge favourite among my family members too.

Parathas, burjees, flavoured rice, all shine with the same star ingredient. In summers however I like to deviate from these heavily spiced dishes to lighter fare. I have to find a lighter way of serving paneer to my family, otherwise I may have to prepare for battle. A sandwich ticks all the right boxes in terms of suitability, taste and nutritional benefits. An open sandwich can be made with any whole grain bread, it can be served hot or at room temperature, or even cold. Tossed with crunchy vegetables, the creamy, crumbly paneer is paired with sesame ragi bread with pine nuts and olives in a fusion avatar to make a fulfilling meal.

Cottage Cheese Sandwich topping (serves 4)

Ingredients:

Paneer-150 gms

Bell peppers-3 assorted (red, yellow, green)

Garlic-1 clove,

Oregano (dried)-1 tsp

Black olives (pitted)-2 tbsp

Jalapenos (tinned)- a few slices (optional)

Pine nuts- 2 tbsp (optional)

Extra virgin olive oil , salt ,pepper

Sharp mustard- 2 tsps or to taste

Wholegrain bread- 8 slices (toasted)

Method:

Dice the bell peppers into small squares. Chop garlic finely. Toast the nuts until golden and set aside to cool. Crumble the paneer. In a medium sized pan, heat one tbsp of olive oil and add the garlic and bell peppers and sauté on low heat.

Add the oregano, salt and pepper and stir until soft. Take off heat and add the paneer and mix through well. Return to low heat and stir for a few minutes.

Take off fire, add the olives and jalapenos and mix well. Let it cool. Mix in the mustard and adjust the taste. Pile on top of the toasted bread and scatter with the toasted pine nuts.

The thin slices of toasted ragi bread with the full bodied flavours of the paneer and veg topping make for a great combo and one that you will definitely want to eat often.

(Read more about food on Shantini’s website www.pinklemontree recipes.com)