10 Best Paneer Substitutes

Paneer is a staple cheese of Indian cuisines, and it is a fresh, dry curd cheese that is neither aged nor salted. It is similar to unsalted pressed ricotta cheese and is a primary source of protein for vegetarians.

Paneer does not melt and is great in curries or wrapped in dough and fried. If you are making a recipe that calls for paneer, but you do not have any at hand, or your grocery store is out of stock, you can use other paneer substitutes instead.

Halloumi cheese panela cheese, feta cheese, extra-firm tofu, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, brie cheese, Mexican queso blanco, cottage cheese, and homemade paneer are all good replacements for paneer.

The good thing is that these substitutes deliver similar qualities and tastes to your dish!

What Exactly Is Paneer?

Paneer Substitutes

Paneer is an Indian fresh cheese; it does not undergo the process of aging or culturing; it is made to be eaten as soon as it’s prepared.

It is made from milk mixed with vinegar or lemon juice, paneer doesn’t melt, so it retains its shape and texture no matter what it is used in.

Paneer can be used in a large variety of recipes and is so easy and inexpensive to make. It is one of the most used ingredients in Indian culture and has slowly made its way into many international dishes.

Also, paneer cheese is entirely vegetarian; this makes it a healthy substitute in many dishes. You can get paneer from your local grocery store or your local Indian store, which usually has different varieties of paneer sometimes at a cheaper price.

You can also buy paneer online. For those times you can’t lay your hands on paneer or when you want to experiment with new flavors and texture, here are some paneer substitute you can try.

Best Paneer Substitutes

Paneer is a type of cheese, so it can be replaced with a variety of other similar tasting and looking cheeses; there are some dairy-free alternatives for paneer as well.

1. Halloumi Cheese

Halloumi is made from goat, sheep, or cow milk; they can also be made from the combination of two milk types. 

It is a classic Cypriot cheese that is popular as a grilling cheese as it retains its shape and grills well. Halloumi has a good amount of protein and is fairly high in fat. It has a high content of calcium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin a, b vitamins, and other nutrients.

Halloumi can be grilled, pan-fried, or thinly sliced and makes a great serving in salads or a Caprese salad in place of mozzarella. 

You can make gluten-free sandwiches by using grilled pieces of halloumi instead of bread, or serve it alongside watermelon just as the Greeks would. Halloumi can be eaten fresh and raw, but its flavor heightens when grilled, smoked, or cooked. 

2. Extra-Firm Tofu

Tofu is made from curdled soybeans and squeezed into blocks, just like how cheese is formed. It is a dairy-free product making it a super healthy paneer substitute. 

Tofu also contains nigari, which is the seaweed water that is left after salt is extracted; it is also packaged soaked in liquid. Nigari gives tofu its classic form and texture and has high mineral content. 

It is preferable to opt for only organic tofu as it is healthier than others, and they make an excellent substitute for paneer in most recipes. 

3. Panela Cheese

Panela is a semi-soft, white cow’s milk cheese made from skim milk. Queso panela does not melt but only gets hard and flexible when melted. 

It is has a slight salty taste and can be eaten fresh on its own as a snack or sliced; it can also be added to sandwich filling.

Panela cheese can be crumbled and added to huevos rancheros, tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, nopal salads, and other dishes. 

Sliced queso panela serves as a topping for most Mexican sandwiches. You can whip up a quick, no-cook snack by topping panela slices into corn tortillas. Queso panela can be fried for an even more delicious result.

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4. Feta Cheese

Feta is a soft cheese made from whole sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk. This cheese is cured in salty brine, and as it ages, the flavor of feta becomes sharper and saltier, and the pickled cheese becomes firmer. 

Feta is a crumbly cheese with tiny holes and a creamy white hue. It is usually sold in square cakes without a rind but also available in pre-crumbled variety, usually in sealed containers without brine and with the option of seasonings. 

Feta cheese is quite expensive compared to other typical cheeses, but you only need a small amount to achieve a yummy and gooey result. 

When using feta in raw meals like salads, allow it to come to room temperature before using it to achieve the most delicate flavor. 

Feta cheese can be served alongside crusty bread pieces, olives, and sliced meats on an appetizer dish. You can also add a splash of lemon juice and olive oil when making a dip with feta.

5. Ricotta Cheese

Ricotta is made by reheating the whey leftover from the making of other cheeses like mozzarella and provolone. It can also be made from the whey of any dairy animal like cows, sheep, goats, and Italian buffalo. 

Ricotta is usually made of a mixture of whey and whole, low-fat, or skim cow’s milk. Ricotta is typically sold in a brine solution; and should only be used as an alternative to paneer when it has been well-drained.

Ricotta is commonly used in lasagna and other Italian casseroles. It is the popular filling for ravioli and most pasta dishes. 

It can be added to cheesecakes following the same procedure that mascarpone is used or combined with sugar, spices, and flavorings to layer cake and use as a filling for cannoli. 

6. Mozzarella Cheese

Mozzarella is a mildly sweet and soft cheese, which can be made from either cow or buffalo milk. It has a springy, robust texture and a slight aroma of dairy cream.

Fresh mozzarella cheese is very soft but becomes stringy and mellow in flavor when melted.

7. Mexican Queso Blanco

Another cheese you can use as a paneer substitute is queso Blanco. It is a smooth, unaged fresh Mexican cheese made entirely of cow’s milk or a combination of cow’s and goat’s milk. 

The word “queso Blanco” translates to “white cheese” in Spanish, but many regions have their own names for comparable cheeses. 

Queso Blanco is not aged and is also known as queso fresco or new cheese. Queso Blanco has a light, firm, and crumbly texture. It can be crumbled over salads and served as a topping on rice and beans.

Mexican queso Blanco takes a short time to age, and the cheese is very easy to make at home. It follows a technique that is similar to that of paneer making

It involves boiling whole fresh milk then adding an acidifying agent to shape the curds, after which you can drain into a cheesecloth.

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8. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese has a similar soft, creamy and white color to paneer. It is also fresh cheese, so it doesn’t age which intensifies the flavor. 

This means cottage cheese has a fairly mild flavor compared to matured cheeses. However, cottage cheese has a high sodium content, so you may want to alter the amount of salt in the recipe when using it as a substitute for paneer cheese.

Cottage cheese is made from the curds of pasteurized cow’s milk with various fat levels. There are different varieties of cottage cheese depending on the curd used. It is available in cream, whipped, lactose-free, reduced sodium, and sodium-free versions.

9. Brie Cheese

Brie is a French cheese with a soft and creamy interior and a beautiful and delicate white mold rind. Brie is typically made with cow’s milk, but goat’s milk can also be used. Brie cheese has high fat, calcium, and sodium content. 

Brie can be added to a cheeseboard and served at room temperature alongside fruit, nuts, baguette slices, and crackers. 

Brie can be baked on its own or wrapped in pastry and pairs well with bread and fruit. Brie slices or chunks can be added in gratins, casseroles, sauces, grilled cheese sandwiches, and panini for the perfect melty goodness. It can also be used on pizzas and flatbreads.

10. Homemade Paneer

The best paneer substitute would be your own homemade paneer. But this is only possible if you have some expertise in cheese making. 

To make homemade paneer, you will need some whole milk, a cheesecloth, and lemon juice. It takes less than an hour to whip up excellent tasting paneer. 

Place a colander in the sink and line it with a thick double layer of cheesecloth. Then bring 8 cups of whole milk to a mild boil over medium heat, constantly stirring. Add in the lemon juice next and reduce the heat to low. 

The curds should begin to form as you stir! Take the pan off the heat and strain the contents into the lined colander, and rinse with cool water. 

Use the cheesecloth to squeeze out the extra liquid, then connect it to your faucet to drain any remaining liquid. 

To smoothen the cheese, tightly twist the ball and set another plate on top, and weigh it down with a heavy saucepan. Transfer the cheese to the refrigerator in this state for about 20 minutes before serving. 

Use plastic wrap to give the cheese its desired shape and place it in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Your homemade paneer is ready to be sliced and enjoyed!

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