Indian Naan Pizza with Homemade Paneer Cheese.

When I prepared this post last Tuesday, preparing for the weekend ahead, I had no idea what was to come in the next few days.  It’s weird for me to look through the photos and work done by the old me – the me from a week ago.  When I hadn’t been hit by a car, I was looking forward to running a marathon in a few weeks, and pain was nowhere on my radar.  I’m glad that for some reason I had the foresight to do this post so far ahead of time!

I am SO so excited to still be part of the Project Food Blog competition – thank you all SO much for your votes!  Whether I advanced to round five or not, I knew I would have to plan ahead this week because we would be out of town all weekend for a wedding.  So I crossed my fingers and said a few prayers, and went ahead and completed my round five entry before I knew I had made it through round four.  And now that it’s official that I HAVE made it (thank you!), let’s get to it.

For round 5 of the competition we were challenged to a “recipe remix.”  One recipe, 100 variations! We’re challenging each of you to put your own spin on pizza. For the purpose of this contest and challenge, we are defining pizza as having a solid base, a sauce and at least one topping. 

Hmmmm, pizza.  To me, pizza is a fun treat to have at a restaurant or celebration, but not something I generally make at home.  I tossed around a few ideas before ultimately deciding on the one that felt best.  As vegetarians, we tend to gravitate towards going out for ethnic food most of the time, as we always find ethnic restaurants to be the most vegetarian friendly.  Indian food is one of our absolute favorites, but I never make it at home.  Until now…

Indian Naan Pizza with Homemade Paneer Cheese

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First things first, we’ll start with the cheese since it was the component that took the longest to prepare.  Most of the cooking we do in our house is vegan, but there are certain times that we make exceptions.  Pizza is one of those, since vegan cheese just doesn’t agree with me.

All you need for homemade paneer is a pint of whole milk (must be full fat), lemon juice, and some cheese cloth. 

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I followed this tutorial, and poured the milk into a saucepan to bring up to a boil. 

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In the meantime, I juiced a few lemons to get 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Squeezing it fresh makes such a difference.

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While I waited for my milk to boil, I set up my straining station on the other side of the room.  I set a colander inside a big mixing bowl, and then added a layer of doubled-up cheesecloth inside.

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Once the milk came up to a boil and started to foam…

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I added the lemon juice and it immediately began to curdle.  I stirred constantly for a few minutes while the milk separated into curds and whey.

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And then strained it into the cheesecloth over a colander.

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After I poured the mixture, I let it sit for about 30 minutes in order to let it drain and continue to separate.

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Eventually, I had a gooey cheese-like substance.

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But I wanted more of a pressed, firm cheese.  So I set an upside-down plate on top of the cheesecloth…

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And made a tower of heavy items in order to press the rest of the remaining moisture out of the cheese.  I left it to be pressed for the next 3 hours, and in the meantime I prepared the rest of my pizza.

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Hours later, I had this beautiful homemade fresh paneer.  Making cheese is really THAT simple, and the end result was totally delicious.  I can’t wait to do this again!

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With my homemade cheese straining on the table, I got to work on making Indian naan bread. 

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I used this recipe, and made a small mixture of lukewarm water, 1 tsp sugar, and 1 tsp active dry yeast and set it aside for about 15 minutes until the yeast had begun to eat the sugar and form a foam.  In a separate bowl, I combined 2 cups all-purpose and 2 cups whole wheat flours, 1 tsp baking powder, and a pinch of salt.  I wanted to give my naan bread some extra flavor, so I also added minced garlic and a handful of freshly chopped cilantro.  Mmmmmm.

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Mixed together, kneaded until it became a dough, and left to rest for an hour in a warm spot (my microwave – the only dog-proof spot in my kitchen).  The dough looked so pretty with the green cilantro bits mixed in.

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An hour later it had doubled in size – awesome.

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I carefully cut it into four even wedges so that I could make four individual naan pizzas. 

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And then on a floured cutting board, I carefully kneaded and worked the dough.

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Once it was worked a bit, I used my fingers to spread it into a rectangular shape.  Perhaps someday I will master pizza enough to be able to toss the dough into the air and form a perfect circle!  Baby steps…

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While my dough rested and my cheese strained, I got to work on two different Indian pizza sauces.  I don’t want this post to turn into one of the great novels, so I will share the sauce recipes with you later this week.  The first sauce was a spicy spinach curry spread…

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And the second was an Indian marinara spiced with garam masala and cilantro. 

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Both were  mindblowingly delicious.  I topped the unbaked naans with the two sauces, and then added a variety of traditional Indian toppings – eggplant, peppers, mango, and of course, paneer cheese. 

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The naan pizzas were baked at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes each, just until the crusts turned golden brown.  The end result was out of this world.  Pizza #1 was the spinach sauce topped with eggplant and paneer…

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The naan dough was crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and bursting with bits of garlic and cilantro flavor.

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The spicy spinach sauce had the perfect amount of heat with SO MUCH Indian flavor.  I love how Indian cuisine incorporates so many spices – it makes the food so much more interesting.

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After a long day of cooking, I was more than ready to dig in.  My entire house smelled like amazing Indian spices – pure heaven.

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I made the first pizza on its own and waited to bake the other three, in case something needed to be adjusted or tweaked.  But pizza #1 was so delicious that as soon as we polished it off, I got to work on the others – no changes necessary.  Pizza #2 was the same spicy spinach sauce, but this time topped with a mix of red and purple bell peppers and paneer.

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I love thinly slicing whole peppers like this for pizza topping – it cooks so much more evenly than big pepper strips.

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Piping hot out of the oven, and straight into my mouth.  The burns on my tongue were totally worth it.

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Pizzas #3 and 4 were the same – naan dough topped with Indian spiced marinara, freshly diced mango, and homemade paneer cheese.   

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This was quite possible the most delicious thing I have ever eaten.

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It was everything I hoped it would be – all the fun and comfort of pizza with all the spice and warmth of Indian food.  A collision of two of my favorite things.

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I assure you – mango on pizza is a VERY good idea.

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My favorite thing so far about being part of this Project Food Blog challenge is that I have really worked to make sure I leave my comfort zone each and every week.  For this week’s challenge, I managed to tackle two unknowns in one dish – homemade pizza and Indian food.  It was a huge success, and I can’t wait to make it again the next time we have friends over.  Such a fun ethnic twist on a traditional classic.

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Thank you all so much for keeping me in this competition – I can’t believe I’ve made it all the way to the half-way point!  I’ve had a lot of emotional ups and downs this weekend since my accident, and feeling all of your love and support through all of this has made such a difference.

As I iced my leg on Friday afternoon, feeling sad and thinking about the upcoming races I’m no longer running, it was such a boost to find out I had made it to the next round of this competition.  I may not be able to run, but I’ll be damned if I can’t COOK.  And for as long as I am a contestant I plan to cook my heart out and embrace new challenges week by week.

You can vote for my entry here!  Thank you for your continued support.  :)