No Paneer, No Problem! 8 Easy Ways to Substitute Paneer Cheese
Paneer derives from a Middle Eastern word meaning “all cheese,” but Paneer has become largely regarded as Indian Cottage Cheese.
In India and other regions of the world, Paneer cheese is often made of buffalo milk but in the west, it is most commonly made from cow’s milk. Like Queso Fresco, it is heated and curdled using some sort of acid, and then strained and pressed.
Paneer cheese is not aged in any way, nor does it melt. Because of this, it is ideal for deep frying, grilling, and stewing, as it is often found in Indian street-food culture.
Paneer soaks up marinades and broths well and because of its mild and slightly sweet nature, it goes great with spicy sauces, soups, stews, gravies, and curries.
Paneer does have a slightly sweet, mildly salty flavor and a dry, crumbly texture that lends itself well to other bold flavors, which is why Paneer is often served with rich, spicy curries and broths.
Paneer is also much drier than other cheeses like it, as it is pressed and strained multiple times, and even shocked in cold water, during the production process. Because Paneer is not aged and only contains a few ingredients, it is often very affordable.
It keeps for several weeks as long as it is sealed, and once opened it spoils quickly, so keep this in mind when shopping for your Paneer recipes.
Since Paneer is used in so many Indian recipes, it is often readily available in grocery stores and marketplaces, but if you cannot find it, here are some great alternatives to try:
Feta cheese is quite salty and comes in a variety of densities ranging from dry and firm, to soft and crumbly.
Feta is salt brined so its salt content can be much higher than Paneer, which isn’t a problem for some recipes, but if you are unsure if your recipe is salty already, it may be a good idea to rinse and/or soak the Feta to rid it of some of its salt before using it as a substitute.
Feta is the same color, and texture and is typically around the same price as Paneer, however, Feta is a cheese that melts whereas Paneer is not, so if you are planning on making a stew or curry, we recommend one of the other substitutes on this list… but Feta is a great place to start for some yummy Paneer inspiration!
2. Queso Fresco or Queso Blanco
Similar to Feta cheese, Queso Fresco is a soft, pure white, crumbly cheese that is mild and salty, making it a perfect substitute for Paneer cheese!
This raw cow’s milk cheese is often made from scratch, in people’s homes, by curdling and pressing milk. It is similar to Paneer in the sense that it does not melt, but it is not quite as firm as Paneer and therefore might break down a bit if you’re planning on cooking it for a long time.
Like Paneer, Halloumi is a non-aged, non-melty cheese that is very popular in other areas of the world, particularly in Cyprus and the Middle East, for its high melting point.
Halloumi can be fried, grilled, and even sauteed without melting, which makes it an excellent and versatile cheese, especially for vegetarians. When fried, its texture remains the same so it is perfect for a samosa or other deep-fried Indian foods.
It is also perfect for stewing for those all-day curries because Halloumi will hold its shape and absorb whatever flavor you are adding to it. Halloumi gets our vote as the best Paneer substitute…
The only difference is that Halloumi tends to squeak when you’re eating it so your most knowledgeable cheese guests might be able to tell.
4. Regular Cottage Cheese
Some versions of Paneer are quite soft like regular cottage cheese, and when a recipe calls for this type, regular cottage cheese will certainly do the trick!
This is true for Indian-style fritters that use Paneer as a base, but you can also invent your own recipes using cottage cheese as a Paneer substitute!
5. Firm Tofu
Although Paneer contains dairy, meaning it is unsuitable for anyone who doesn’t consume milk products, Paneer recipes can easily swap out the dairy for cubed firm tofu!
To create a cheesy effect, simply drain the tofu well and press it between two paper towels until it is quite dry on the outside.
Then, cube the tofu into a small bowl and add a generous pinch of fine salt. This is, of course, not Paneer cheese, but the tofu will absorb flavorings just like Paneer and will offer a firm bite when stewed all day, so it really is the perfect non-dairy option for Paneer on the market!
6. Mexican Oaxaca Cheese
This popular Mexican cheese gets its roots from Queso Fresco and is very mild.
If you’re in Mexico, especially Oaxaca proper, then it is also the best cheese because you will find it in literally every shop! Outside of Mexico, it can be a little trickier to find but is a great alternative to Paneer if you can find it.
7. Surti Paneer
This is a special type of Paneer cheese that is made specifically from buffalo milk curdled with rennet, as opposed to cow’s milk curdled with lemon juice or vinegar, as most store-bought Paneer cheese exists today, especially in the Western world.
If you have a chance to substitute typical Paneer for this Indian version, we recommend you try it! Surti Paneer has a stronger flavor and higher fat content meaning it is creamier and denser than its alternatives. It also does not melt when cooking, so it is an excellent option for stews, curries, soups, and deep frying.
This cheese may be hard to find outside of India but is well worth it if you have the opportunity to cook with it!
8. Bandel Cheese
This cheese is sort of like a Portuguese version of Paneer cheese. It is made similarly, but after it is pressed and aged for 36 hours, it is then smoked, imparting a very unique, at times intense flavor.
Bandel cheese is a very ancient recipe, originating in India but becoming very popular with Portuguese immigrants, and has since become a rare delicacy. Bandel makes a great alternative to regular Paneer and adds that unsuspecting smokey flavor that will dance on your palette!
If you’re a fan of Indian food, you have likely fallen in love with Paneer cheese, however, it is not always the easiest cheese to find. Check the specialty aisle of your grocery store, or better yet, check out the Indian grocer in your area. If you can not find Paneer cheese, any one of these cheeses will make a great substitute, particularly the Halloumi for stews, thick sauces, gravies, and curries.
Pay close attention to whatever your recipe asks for in terms of soft or firm Paneer as this will make all the difference in which cheese you choose as an alternative. For recipes calling for firm Paneer, choose a firmer cheese like Feta or Halloumi. If your recipe is asking for low and slow cooking, make sure you choose an alternative that also doesn’t melt (again, Halloumi or tofu). And if your recipe is asking for a soft Paneer or Indian cottage cheese, then go with ricotta, cottage cheese, or quark. All of these cheeses will do the trick and act as Paneer which is a wonderfully chewy, flavourful, mild cheese that takes on the flavor of whatever you’re cooking!
Related: 50 Famous Indian Foods