Who does not love the creamy flavoursome taste of Paneer? Not only is it delicious but it is also a healthy side dish. While Cottage cheese is preferred in India as a popular vegetarian dish and to make sweets, not many know that it saved millions of lives from perishing during the First World War.

Paneer is found in its many avatars across the globe. Surprisingly it is also an important diet of athletes who are engaged in high energy sports.

Read more about the humble cottage cheese and follow the recipe to make super easy and quick Shahi Paneer.

Cottage Cheese In WW1

Cottage Cheese is more commonly called Paneer or Chhana in India. It has been consumed from thousands of years as India always had a rich supply of milk and hence dairy products.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage Cheese was also very popular in Mesopotamia. Even five thousand years, the Mesopotamians valued it for taste and nutritional value. When travellers set out on a long journey across deserts and dry terrains, hey carried milk and cottage cheese. This cottage cheese was salted with a slightly sour taste to it. Rich in carbohydrate and fat it would provide ample energy to the weary traveller.

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Cottage Cheese

Paneer has also seen its days of glory in the World War. In WW1 many a times rations would run low across the country and border. As European diet depended largely on meat based food, providing them enough energy and protein. As milk was still available if cows live, the government encouraged the citizens to add cottage cheese in their diet to make up for the missing protein until things came back to normal. So temporarily people shifted more to a dairy based diet from beef. The strategy worked and in many ways averted a food crisis.

Is Cottage Cheese Healthy For You?

Cottage Cheese is probably the healthiest cheese for you. Almost all other cheese products are aged or coloured. Cottage cheese is fresh and natural. Chhena can been consumed directly and it is also recommended by doctors to add it to diet for those who are sickly and weak. Where most cheese may not be safe during pregnancy, cottage cheese is actually healthy and suggested by nutritionists.

See this video based on a study published by British Journal of Nutrition. It says that ‘new research shows cottage cheese before bed supports metabolism and muscle recovery. Researchers found that consuming 30 grams of protein about 30 minutes before bed appears to have a positive effect on muscle quality, metabolism and overall health. And for those who have sworn off eating at night, there is no gain in body fat.

Throughout the world there are various versions of the cottage cheese like the French Faisselle, the Scandinavian Quarg and the Italian Mascarpone. Numerous dishes with these cottage cheese variations satisfy our palate. In India, Chhena is a must for making sweets.

Cottage Cheese

As Cottage Cheese is drained but not pressed, it retains its nutrients. Even its whey contains many healthy nutrients and if lemon has been used instead on rennet, it can be safely used for cooking other dishes.

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Many health food advocates and dieters recommend cottage cheese as a daily addition to your diet. The ratio of Casein protein is quite high while fat is comparatively lesser than other food items. This combination makes cottage cheese a favourite among sportspersons. Bodybuilders and weightlifters especially prefer cottage cheese. Athletes who are in high energy sports like running and swimming have cottage cheese on a daily basis.

Cottage Cheese

How to prepare Shahi Paneer (Cottage Cheese In White Gravy) ?

Preparation time – 15 minutes
Cooking time – 15 minutes

Paneer (Cottage cheese) – 250 gm
Butter/ ghee/vegetable oil – 3 to 4 tsp
Tomato – 1 medium (or puree)
Onion – 1 mediumChilli – 1
Black pepper – ½ tsp
Ginger (paste/grated) – ½ tsp
Cashews – 10
Almonds – 6 to 8
Milk or water – 1/3  cup + ½ cup
Fresh cream – 1/3 cup
Salt – 1 tsp
Sugar – 1 tsp
Garam masala (whole or powder) – ½ tsp

Here’s how to cook Shahi paneer (Cottage Cheese in white gravy)

Soak about 10 cashews and 8 almonds in one-third cup of warm milk or water for about 10 minutes. Then grind and make a paste of the cashews.
Make a paste of the onion, ginger, tomato and chilli.

Cut the cottage cheese (paneer) in small pieces or cubes (about 1 to 2 cm). Heat the pan and add 1 tsp butter/oil/vegetable ghee or a combination of any oil with butter or ghee. Keeping the heat low, add the paneer pieces and lightly fry for about 1 minute. Then take out the fried pieces and keep aside.

In the same pan, add 2 to 3 tsp butter/oil/ghee. If you use whole garam masala, add it first to splutter.

Add the paste of onion, ginger, tomato and chilli. Cook well, keeping the heat low. Add little bit of black pepper, salt and sugar.

If you want to add turmeric powder add a pinch but it is totally optional. If you do not have whole garam masala use garam masala powder. Add 1/2 tsp of the powder and mix well.

Fry the mixture for about five to eight minutes and add the cashew paste.  Add about ½ cup of warm milk or water and put the heat to high. Keep stirring as the gravy will get thick quickly. As it starts to get thick, lower the heat and add the fried pieces of cottage cheese and the fresh cream. Cook for 1 minute more and turn the gas off. Your delicious Shahi paneer is ready to be relished with a plate of hot rice, roti or paratha. It makes a wonderful side dish at lunch or dinner.

Cottage Cheese

Helpful Tips –

  • You can adjust the milk/water depending upon the thickness of the gravy.
  • You can make it without the spice also, it will be a lightly flavoured dish.
  • If you are using whole garam masala spices instead of the powder, use it earlier directly in oil before adding the onion mixture.
  • Shahi Paneer literally means royal. Relished and named after the rich cashew, almond and cream based gravy which was a hit among the royal family members. Shahi Paneer is meant to less spicy and more full of flavours. There are various other ways of making this recipe but all taste just the same, delicious and buttery smooth.

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Image credit: Daily Express, Wikipedia