Politics & Paneer
Happy Malaysia 2.0! If you haven’t heard, the corrupt Malaysian government of old has been overthrown, ushering in a new era of (hopefully) clean, conscientious Malaysian politics!
I know talking politics is far from my realm of comfort, but with this new change of government, there’s been a palpable sense of possibility and belief in the Malaysian air (alongside the usual haze). So if I believe it enough, perhaps you’ll see that this silly food writer can weigh in on serious political matters too (or at least attempt to)!
On a bigger note, the real reason why I’m bringing up this bit of politics is to, in my own way, somewhat immortalise this landmark moment of Malaysia’s history. Like most Malaysians of my generation, we know that what happened in the past month will be the story of our country we tell our children and grandchildren in the decades to come. So kids (and my non-Malaysian reader), here’s a quick glimpse of what just happened to Malaysia.
Since Malaysia’s independence from British colonial rule 61 years ago, we’ve only ever been governed by one ruling party. A corrupt, race-baiting, self-aggrandising party at that. Sure, they weren’t always bad. But like an avocado left out to ripen for too long, this party’s long rule over Malaysia blackened and soured their governing approach from the inside out.
So in the recent election, with our corrupt, now ex-prime minister (the 7th) at the height of his abusive power, the people of Malaysia finally fought back. In the face of massive gerrymandering and vote-buying, we fought for hope and honesty, and voted out the only government we’ve ever known. Not only that (and this is what I’m most proud of), we did it in the most peaceful, democratic way possible, with no riots, no needless violence, no mess. Now, with our new prime minister, Dr. Mahathir, at the helm of the country, Malaysia’s future is looking bright yet again!
Now obviously things are a lot more complicated than I just made it seem. For one, Mahathir used to be our previous (4th) prime minister, and previously led the exact same party he just ousted this election. During his previous term in office, he made some dodgy decisions, imposing media sanctions, siding with one race over others in several instances, and unfairly imprisoning his then-deputy (who is now slated to be our next prime minister). All in all, he was said to have ruled like a dictator, However, he did undoubtedly lead and develop Malaysia to great heights, so in many ways he is also somewhat of a capable candidate to lead the country, perhaps one that we need right now.
Leadership matters aside, so much of the country seemed to have already been laid to waste by the previous government, it’ll be a tall task to bring the country back to its feet, especially on the finance front. (We're apparently >RM1 trillion in debt, no thanks to Najib (our previous PM) & Co..) Not only that, I feel like corruption is so embedded in our society that it’ll be tough to even begin tackling it. As for the biggest scandal in Malaysian history - 1MDB (heck, it might even be the biggest in world history), it still seems unlikely that its perpetrators will truly be brought to justice.
While these are all legitimate worries, for now at least, the whole country seems to be buzzing on a high, and it feels like we can achieve anything we set our minds to. So y’know Malaysia, I'm fricking excited to see you grow! 😊
Before I get too out of my depth here, I’ll stop with the political talk and get back to the one thing I know best – food. And in this case, paneer. But if you’re interested in more Malaysian politics, I’ve included some links to some articles about it at the end of the post, written by people who have actual political credibility (unlike me).
So anyway, in between digesting the glut of breaking news (and election memes) over the post-election weekend, I made paneer! It’s a simple, 3-ingredient cheese that takes all but 30 minutes of active time to whip up, so if you’re lazy, cash-strapped, and cheese-hungry, this is the cheese to make.
Now I wish I had a more compelling reason for making paneer, one that can somehow be elegantly linked to politics, but really I just made it for kicks. Actually scratch that, forget what I just said. Since we're talking politics, I should do what politicians do best – spin stories and create tentative links where none exist!
So the actual reason why I made paneer was to celebrate Mahathir, our new prime minister, who is also adoringly known as Che Det. And since it was our 14th general election, and 4-1=3, take the first three letters of Mahathir’s nickname and you get ‘CHE’. Now what food also starts with the letters ‘che’? CHEESE, that’s what.
Plus, in this election, the (now ex-)ruling party indulged in a whole lot of race baiting. Again, with it being our 14th election, and 4-1=3, this begs the question – what’s the 3rd largest race in Malaysia? INDIANS, that’s who.
And what is a cheese that is also Indian? PANEER!
So there’s you have it, the real reason I made paneer!
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Makes ~200g of cheese
1 litre fresh milk, full fat, never use UHT
30g lemon juice, 1 lemon should be more than sufficient
2 teaspoons (~8g) salt
- Pour the milk and salt into a saucepan and heat it until about 90°C, stirring occasionally to prevent any milk solids from scorching on the bottom of the pan. The milk will start to get frothy as it comes to temperature. (Don’t fret if you accidentally overheat it until it boils, just take it off the heat and let it cool slightly.)
- Take the milk off the heat and pour in the lemon juice. Give the milk a quick stir, then remove your spatula or stirring apparatus and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. In this time, the milk will start to curdle. The solid curds will begin to separate from the liquid whey. It’s the curds that we’ll be using to make cheese, and fattier milk will make more curds, which is why it’s always better to use full fat milk over skimmed milk, which would lessen the yield.
- Ready a sieve or chinois that’s lined with muslin/cheesecloth, and gently scoop the milk curds into the strainer. Towards the end, you can pour all the whey through the cheesecloth to filter out all the milk solids. As for the whey that’s collected through the cheesecloth, far from being a useless byproduct, you can use it to make lacto-ferments or smoothies!
- Once you have the all the curds, wrap up the cheesecloth and give it a gently squeeze to press out the excess whey. Then, transfer the cheesecloth with the curds onto a flat container or a plate and shape it however you want. (A square, circle, triangle, octagon, dodecahedron; whatever tickles your fancy really.) Fold the cheesecloth over the curds so it’s covered on both sides, and weigh it down with a heavy pot or plate with a flat base. Leave it pressed for 30 minutes to an hour, until it becomes a little firmer and pick-up-able.
- You can use it fresh immediately. But I like to refrigerate it for a day or two, uncovered, to further firm it up.