Paneer is a fresh Indian cheese that’s commonly used in many Indian recipes, although it can be used in other cuisines as well. It is made with milk and an acidic ingredient like vinegar or lemon juice, resulting in a mild, milky flavor and a mealy, coarse texture. Unlike other types of cheese, paneer doesn’t melt and retains its shape after cooking.
The unique texture and subtle flavor of paneer can be tough to replicate. However, if you want to whip up a protein-packed meal but don’t have paneer on hand, you can still use these paneer substitutes to get desirable results.
1. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is a fresh, white, low-fat cheese made with pasteurized cow’s milk. It has a fairly mild flavor with a smooth, creamy texture and is packed with protein just like paneer, making it one of the best substitutes for paneer. While store-bought versions are widely available, you can also make cottage cheese at home for better flavor and texture.
You can find different types of cottage cheese, so you’ll be able to find one that will flawlessly integrate into your diet. You can use it as a stand-alone ingredient or add it to recipes as you would add paneer. Just bear in mind that cottage cheese tends to have a high sodium content, so you will need to adjust the amount of salt in your recipes to balance the flavors.
2. Feta Cheese
Feta cheese is an aged cheese traditionally made with sheep’s milk, although the type of milk used to manufacture it can differ across countries. It has a soft and crumbly texture that becomes firmer, richer, and sharper as it ages. If you preserve it well, you should be able to extend its lifespan as well!
You can use feta cheese to replace paneer in raw applications like salads, appetizers, and side dishes. You can also combine it with lemon juice and olive oil and serve it alongside crusty bread for dipping. Keep in mind that feta is high in sodium, so it won’t be suitable for those with heart diseases.
3. Halloumi Cheese
Halloumi is a type of cheese made using a combination of sheep and goat’s milk, although it can be made with only one of the two as well. The white, layered cheese has a notably tangy flavor and a semi-soft texture that retains its form after cooking. It is a good source of nutrients like proteins and vitamins as well as fats, making it an excellent paneer substitute.
You can use halloumi cheese for grilling and pan-frying to produce crispy, savory delights without worrying about the cheese melting! You can also cut it into thin strips and add it to various recipes to give them a protein boost as well as a depth flavor. However, keep in mind that halloumi will be a touch saltier than paneer, so it’s best to restrict its use for cooking preparations only.
4. Queso Blanco
Queso Blanco is a type of Mexican cheese typically prepared with cow’s milk, but it may also be made with both cow and goat milk. It has a milky, mild flavor and a firm, crumbly texture that softens when cooked. Queso Blanco is typically used unaged, similar to paneer, and is easily available in most stores.
You can use crumbled Mexican Queso Blanco over salads, tacos, rice, and beans, or serve it fresh on a fruit platter with some tasty marmalade. If you want to save a trip to the grocery store, you can also make this cheese at home using the same recipe as paneer — milk and an acidic ingredient like vinegar or lemon juice.
5. Mozzarella Cheese
Mozzarella cheese is a type of Italian cheese made using cow or water buffalo’s milk. It does not require aging and has a pleasantly mild, milky flavor and a robust texture with a faint aroma of dairy cream. It is full of nutrients while having low sodium and fat content, making it a very healthy alternative to paneer. Mozzarella is best consumed fresh to enjoy its soft texture and subtle flavor.
Mozzarella works well in a range of dishes like salads and sandwiches and it can also be consumed by itself. Keep in mind that mozzarella will not retain its texture and shape when cooked. It’s one of the reasons why it works incredibly well as a pizza topping but won’t give desirable results in other dishes when used as a paneer substitute.
6. Panela Cheese
Panela, also known as queso panela (basket cheese), is a type of cottage cheese prepared with pasteurized cow’s milk. It is semi-soft and creamy in texture and has a delicious fresh milk flavor. Panela also doesn’t lose its shape when cooked, making it a good choice of cheese for cooking.
You can use panela in a range of savory dishes and cooking applications such as baking and pan-frying. It works best as a snack or an appetizer to pair with some hearty mains. You can also use it to infuse flavor in soups and curries. It is available in different types — some come marinated with different paste and spices. So, make sure you choose a type of panela that will give your dish the right flavor.
7. Ricotta Cheese (Well-Drained)
Ricotta is an Italian cheese that’s made from leftover whey from other cheeses. So, it’s not an actual cheese but a byproduct of producing other cheeses. It has a soft and grainy texture and is rich in calcium while being low in sodium.
You can use the versatile ricotta as stuffing in pasta bakes, casseroles, wraps, sandwiches, and even in a dessert like cheesecake. You can also combine it with other spices and seasonings in various recipes, but avoid adding it to soups and curries as it will melt into the dish. Please note that because ricotta does not keep well in the fridge, make sure you use it immediately to prevent waste.