As someone learning how to cook from her mother, there is a sense of achievement when the result of a kitchen encounter gets positive reviews. These cooking lessons are sessions both Maa and I look forward to. At least I hope Maa looks forward to them!
What I love most about our kitchen sessions is when Maa shares tips and tricks from her experience of over 50 years – coz she did not start cooking before she was in her mid-20s you know! She belongs to a generation of cooks who’ve learned without measuring cups and spoons. Her cooking teachers have been her mother, mother-in-law, and experience. And her emphasis is on ‘learning the basics’.
Conversations during these sessions often take a nostalgic turn as Maa regales me with stories from her life. Earlier this week, as I learned how to make chhana payesh, Maa said, “You have it easy. Just run down to the store, buy some paneer and your payesh can be done in a jiffy. When we were younger, chhana had to be made from scratch. And I’ve done it too! Made chhana at home and then made rasgulla, gulab jamun for nearly 30-40 people on your birthdays!”
I gasped in shock. Which made her turn towards me and say, “It’s easy you know, making chhana. Go get a packet of milk and I’ll teach you how.”
And then, ladies and gentlemen, I learned to make chhana.
Chhana is a kind of cheese curd made from milk by adding food acid. Similar to cottage cheese, chhana is the base of several Indian and especially Bengali sweets. It also works well as a healthy snack and is often given to patients – easy to digest, it provides the recovering humans with required nutrition. Just drizzle some honey on it or add a dash of lemon juice and a spoonful of sugar and you are set.
Paneer, chhana or Indian cottage cheese, a base for several Indian sweets.
- 500 grams Milk (full fat)
- 2 tablespoons Lemon juice
Pour the milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Add two tablespoons of lemon juice to the hot milk, stirring constantly. As soon as you see the milk curdle and separate from the whey – the green-tinged liquid residue – remove from the heat and strain into a colander or sieve.
Give the chhana a quick wash in water to cool completely and remove the smell of lemon. Squeeze out excess water.
The chhana is ready for use.
- You can replace lemon juice with vinegar or diluted citric acid. I would prefer the lemon – natural is better.
- The texture of the chhana – soft or crumbly – can be controlled by the amount of water you squeeze out.
- Want to make paneer tikka masala? Hang the chhana for 20-30 minutes in a muslin cloth to remove excess water. Press into a square plate, cover with a muslin cloth and weigh it down with a heavy object. Set for an hour. Uncover and cut.
- Don’t throw away the whey water! It is filled with proteins. Use it in soups or curries.
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