Paneer, the staple of Indian cuisine, is a dry curd cheese that is neither aged nor it is salted. Unlike other cheeses, paneer does not melt either. It is a fresh soft cheese that is a great source of protein.
Palak Paneer or Cheese Spinach is a popular Indian entrée that first introduced me to the paneer craze! It tasted so good that it made paneer one of my favorite cheeses. I also tried making other snacks and desserts using paneer and enjoyed its rich taste.
I know getting your hands on quality paneer is not always easy! Rare are the stores that sell authentic Indian paneer, so if you don’t get to find one, then don’t panic! You can make a delicious paneer recipe by using some of the best-known substitutes for paneer. That’s exactly why I first tried halloumi cheese in a shahi paneer recipe.
Then I went ahead and tried other alternatives for paneer as well, including feta, mozzarella, cottage, ricotta, panela, brie, Mexican Queso Blanco, and Camembert cheese and tofu along with the homemade paneer. Let’s find more about these substitutes and how to use them in different ways.
What is Paneer?
Paneer is an Indian cheese produced with curdled milk and an acidic fruit or vegetable acid such as lemon juice. It has a few distinguishing characteristics such as:
- It is a fresh cheese that hasn’t been aged.
- It is a mild cheese.
- It does not melt upon cooking.
Paneer can be eaten as a snack, as a part of a meal, or even for breakfast. It has a soft crumbly texture, yet it can be cooked in cubed and sliced form.
There are several ideas about where Paneer came from, the most popular of which dates back to the 16th century in Southeast Asia when Persian and Afghani kings first introduced the cheese. Whatever its origins, Paneer is an important and delectable ingredient of the Indian culinary culture, and we all simply love it for its ultimate richness.
Here Are 11 Great Paneer Substitutes
Since paneer is a cheese, it can be substituted with a variety of other similar tasting and looking cheeses along with some dairy-free alternatives, including:
1. Halloumi Cheese
Halloumi is a classic Cypriot cheese prepared from goat’s and sheep’s milk or a combination of the two. Cow’s milk is occasionally utilized for its making. It is very popular as a grilling cheese because it holds its shape and grills well. Halloumi is a good source of protein and fairly high in fat. It is high in calcium and contains zinc, magnesium, vitamin A, and B vitamins, among other nutrients.
Grilled, pan-fried, or thinly sliced Halloumi also make a great serving. It can be used in salads or in a Caprese salad instead of mozzarella. To make gluten-free sandwiches, use grilled pieces of Halloumi instead of bread, or serve it with watermelon just as the Greeks used to. While Halloumi can be eaten fresh and raw, it tastes best when grilled, smoked, or cooked.
2. Extra-Firm Tofu
Tofu is manufactured by pressing curdled and squeezed soybeans into blocks, similar to how cheese is formed. It is a nice and healthy dairy-free substitute for paneer. Tofu also contains nigari, which is the liquid leftover after salt is removed from seawater and is what you find tofu soaked in when you open it. Nigari contributes to tofu’s classic form and texture, and it is also high in minerals.
I recommend buying organic tofu because it is healthier than others. You can make all sorts of paneer recipes using tofu as a substitute. Add tofu as a replacement in Palak paneer, shahi paneer, paneer stir-fries, and other fried paneer recipes; you will love it!
3. Panela Cheese
Panela is a semi-soft, white cow’s milk cheese that is manufactured from skim milk. When heated, queso panela gets hard and flexible, but it does not melt. It is lightly salted and can be eaten on its own as a snack or sliced, and it can also be used as a sandwich filling.
Panela cheese can be crumbled and used to make huevos rancheros, tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, nopal salads, and other dishes. Mexican sandwiches can be topped with sliced queso panela. Tuck panela slices into corn tortillas for a quick, no-cook snack. When queso panela is fried, it becomes even more delicious.
4. Feta Cheese
Feta is a soft cheese prepared from whole sheep’s milk or a mix of sheep’s and goat’s milk. Feta is cured in salty brine. With age, the flavor of this pickled cheese becomes sharper and saltier, and the cheese becomes firmer.
Feta is a crumbly cheese with a creamy white hue and little holes. It is usually sold in square cakes without a rind, but you can also get pre-crumbled feta in sealed containers without brine and with or without seasonings. It is more expensive than other typical cheeses, but a small amount goes a long way.
Allow feta to come to room temperature before using it in raw meals like appetizers for the finest flavor. Serve it alongside crusty bread pieces, olives, and sliced meats on an appetizer dish. Alternatively, combine it with a little lemon juice and olive oil to make a dip.
5. Ricotta Cheese
Ricotta is prepared by reheating the whey leftover from the production of other cheeses like mozzarella and provolone. It is a dairy product that can be made from the whey of any dairy animal, including cows, sheep, goats, and Italian buffalo.
Ricotta is typically made with a combination of whey and whole, low-fat, or skim cow’s milk in the United States. Usually, ricotta comes in a brine solution; only well-drained ricotta can be used as an alternative to paneer.
Ricotta is frequently used in lasagna and other Italian casseroles. It is also a popular filling for ravioli and other pasta dishes. It can be used in cheesecakes in the same way that mascarpone is used, or it can be combined with sugar, spices, and flavorings to fill cannoli or to layer a cake.
6. Mozzarella Cheese
Mozzarella is a mild, pleasant, and pliable cheese, with flavors derived from either cow or buffalo milk. It has a springy, robust texture and a faint, scarcely noticeable aroma of dairy cream, making it a favorite among all. When fresh, the mozzarella cheese is softer, but when melted, it becomes stringy and mellow in flavor.
7. Mexican Queso Blanco
When paneer is unavailable, another excellent paneer substitute is queso Blanco. Queso Blanco is a smooth, unaged fresh Mexican cheese made entirely of cow’s milk or sometimes from a blend of cow’s and goat’s milk. Although the word “queso Blanco” means “white cheese” in Spanish, many regions have their own names for comparable cheeses. Because it is not matured, queso Blanco is also known as queso fresco or new cheese.
The texture of Queso Blanco is light, firm, and crumbly. Queso Blanco can be crumbled on salads, served over rice and beans, or served as a table cheese with fresh fruit, marmalade, or chutney.
Due to its short ageing time, the cheese is very easy to manufacture at home. The technique is similar to that of paneer making, which entails boiling whole fresh milk, shaping the curds with an acidifying agent, and draining the curds into the cheesecloth.
8. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is a soft, creamy white cheese. Like Paneer, it is also is a fresh cheese, which means it doesn’t go through the ageing or ripening process to acquire flavor. As a result, when compared to matured cheeses, it has a fairly mild flavor. When substituting Cottage cheese for Paneer cheese, bear in mind that Cottage cheese has a high sodium content, so you may want to alter the amount of salt in your recipe accordingly.
Cottage cheese is processed from the curds of the pasteurized cow’s milk of varying fat levels. It comes in different varieties depending on the curd used. It also comes in cream, whipped, lactose-free, reduced sodium, and sodium-free versions.
9. Brie Cheese
Brie is a creamy soft cheese from France that is currently produced all over the world. It has a creamy interior and a beautiful and delectable white mold rind. Brie is traditionally made with cow’s milk; however, goat’s milk can also be used. The cheese has a high-fat level, as well as a high calcium and sodium content. It also contains a lot of protein and vitamins A and B-6.
Brie makes a great addition to any cheeseboard, and it is best served at room temperature with fruit, nuts, baguette slices, and crackers. Brie bakes wonderfully on its own or wrapped in pastry and goes great with bread and fruit. Slices or chunks of brie can be melted in gratins, casseroles, sauces, grilled cheese sandwiches, and panini, as well as on pizzas and flatbreads.
Camembert is a French cheese that originated in Normandy. It is processed from cow’s milk and has a delicate, creamy texture with a delectable white mold rind that’s regarded as a delicacy. Mushroom-like, garlicky, egg-like, nutty, milky, grassy, or fruity is some of the flavors associated with Camembert.
Camembert is best served at room temperature with fruit, nuts, baguette pieces, and crackers. It bakes well, whether covered in pastry or not, and Camembert has a somewhat stronger flavor when cooked than baked brie. Camembert slices or chunks can be used in gratins, casseroles, sauces, grilled cheese sandwiches, panini, and pizzas, and flatbreads, as well as on pizzas and flatbreads.
11. Homemade Paneer
The best way to substitute paneer in a recipe is to make your own homemade paneer. But that is only possible if you are a pro at making cheese at home. Paneer is comparatively easy and simple.
If you have little experience dealing with milk and curds, then you can definitely make it at home. All you will need for this process is some whole milk, a cheesecloth, and lemon juice. In less than an hour, you can make excellent tasting paneer.
Set a colander in the sink after lining it with a thick double layer of cheesecloth. Then, over medium heat, bring 8 cups of whole milk to a mild boil, with constant stirring. After that, add the lemon juice and reduce the heat to low.
The curds will begin to form as you stir! Remove the pan from the heat and strain the contents into a lined colander, rinsing with cool water. Squeeze the extra liquid out with the cheesecloth in your hand.
Then connect it to your faucet to drain any remaining liquid. To ensure smooth cheese, twist the ball tightly, set another plate on top, and weigh it down with a heavy pot. Refrigerate it in this state for about 20 minutes before serving.
Wrap the cheese in plastic wrap to give it the desired shape and keep it in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Slice and enjoy your homemade paneer!