|Steak ‘n’ Chips a la Vegetarian
Hamsa Avatara asked me for the recipe for Panir Cheese Steaks in this famous photo of mine. Incidentally, we (my publisher, art director and I) almost made this the front-cover illustration for my second cookbook ‘Cooking with Kurma’. Here’s that recipe:
Panir Cheese Steaks with Salad Greens on Crusty Bread
Curd cheese, or panir, is rich in protein and extremely versatile. It can be deep-fried and used in vegetable dishes, crumbled into salads, made into sweets, stuffed inside breads and pastries, and creamed into dips.
Curd cheese is the simplest kind of unripened cheese and is made by adding an acid or other curdling agent to hot milk. The solid milk protein coagulates to form the soft curd cheese, the liquid whey is separated, and the cheese is drained, pressed, and then used as required. Because curd cheese is not commonly available in shops, and the hom-made product is vastly superior, I have included the simple recipe for making your own.
The quality and freshness of the milk will determine the quality of the curd cheese. The higher the fat-content of the milk, the richer the curd cheese. Different curdling agents will produce different types of curd. The most common curdling agents are strained, fresh lemon juice, citric acid crystals dissolved in water, yogurt, cultured buttermilk, or sour whey from a previous batch of curd cheese.
5 litres fresh milk
3-4 cups yogurt or 6-8 tablespoons lemon juice
oil for pan-frying
½ teaspoon yellow asafetida powder
tamari or soy sauce
sweet chili sauce
crusty bread, salad greens and chips for serving
Heat the milk to boiling point in a heavy-based saucepan.
Stir in three-quarters of the yogurt or lemon juice. The milk should separate into chunky curds, leaving a greenish liquid residue called whey. If not completely separated, add a little more yogurt or lemon juice. Drape a double thickness of cheesecloth over a colander sitting in the sink.
Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon and place them in the cheesecloth. Pour the whey and whatever curds that remain in the saucepan into the cheesecloth. Gather the ends of the cloth together and hold the bag of curd cheese under cold running water for 30 seconds. Twist the bag tightly to squeeze out extra whey, return it to the colander.
Press under a heavy weight for 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove the curd cheese from the cloth. Your panir is ready. Slice the panir into steaks.
Combine the tamari and sweet chili sauce in a bowl and whisk together until well combined.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan placed over fairly high heat. Sprinkle in the yellow asafetida powder and saute momentarily.
Fry the panir steaks in the flavoured oil on both sides until crusty, then pour over the marinade. Cook the panir steaks, turning until the liquid is slightly reduced, then remove from the heat. Serve the panir steaks on the crusty bread with any pan juices poured over, accompanied by the salad greens and chips.