Ever since leaving Afghanistan 34 years ago, I would think back to the summer days in Paghman where my family would go for Friday outings to escape the Kabul heat. Paghman is only a short drive from Kabul but has very mild weather. Wealthy Kabulis would spend their summer days in their lush villas, have picnics in their beautiful gardens and swim in the rivers of Paghman.
Our summer holidays were filled with great food but my favorite was the afternoon snack of fresh cheese with raisins (kishmish paneer). A local Kochi-nomad woman would deliver the fresh panare which would be wrapped in a cloth. It would be served on a platter with black raisins, nuts and fresh fruit. My mouth is watering just writing about it.
My family never found an equivalent to Afghan panare in American, so we created our own recipe. The cheese is very mild in flavor and has a chewy mozzarella like consistency. The key to bringing the flavors out is the raisins. They are heavenly together. You can also have it on a cracker with a dribble of cherry preserve or honey. Many Americans who have tasted it feel that it needs more salt but traditionally this cheese has unrecognizable amount of salt. You can adjust the recipe to your own taste.
I hope you love this as much as I do.
Fresh Afghan Cheese
1/2 gallon of one percent milk
1/2 gallon of buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp. of salt
Cheese cloth (Whole foods, Bed Bath & Beyond)
Round deep colander
This recipe can be doubled.
In a large heavy pan heat the milk on medium heat. While waiting, cut the cheese cloth to fit the colander and have some of it drape off the side of the colander. If the mesh on the cheese cloth is not very fine, lay 2-3 layers.
Just when the milk starts to boil (don't burn the bottom) remove it from heat. Add the buttermilk and salt. Stir for 1 minute. Set the colander in the sink and slowly pour the contents of the pot into the colander. Make sure that the cheese cloth doesn't slide off the sides of the colander. The milk will curdle and the liquid will drip out of the colander. Scrape the side of the cheese cloth to speed up the drainage of the liquid.
The contents will reduce slowly. Grab the side of the cheese cloth and tie with with a clip or a rubber band. Continue squeezing the cheese cloth until there is barely any water squeezing out but it should still feel moist otherwise the cheese will be too dry. By now the cheese should be the size of a large softball.
Put the cheese in the cheese cloth with a bowl lined with two layers of paper towel. Leave it in the fridge for 2-3 hours or until it is solid.
Take the cheese out of the cheese cloth, cut in 1/4 inch thick slice, serve with black raisins.
Mixtured poured into the cheese cloth in the collander
Cheese is ready to be unwrapped
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