Paneer seems like one of those ingredients that’s simply irreplaceable. That’s true to an extent. Not many ingredients can hold their shape when heated and maintain a soft and crumbly texture while delivering a mild, creamy flavor.
However, there are some excellent substitutions you can use in place of paneer. Some can even improve your dish with added texture or flavor.
Together we’ll go over 8 of the best paneer substitutes and when and how to use each one. This way, you’ll be able to find the right ingredient to swap for paneer based on any dish you’re preparing.
8 Seamless Swaps For Paneer & How To Use Them
Replace paneer with halloumi for kebabs, soups, curries, sandwiches, and flatbreads. Feel free to pan-fry, barbeque, or grill the halloumi. Serve it hot, or cold and crumbled over a salad.
Halloumi is known as a “grilling cheese” because you can cook it over high heat, and it will not melt. You can even achieve grill marks on a slice of it!
Halloumi is a low acid cheese, whereas paneer is a high acid cheese. However, both have a mild taste and can be used in equal amounts.
You can use panela in the same applications as halloumi and paneer. For example, serve it hot in kebabs, soups, curries, pressed sandwiches, and flatbreads. Or, use it cold and crumbled on salads or alongside fruit.
Panela hails from Mexico, while paneer originated in India. But, both are fresh cheeses that don’t melt under high heat that can also be used cold and crumbly.
Paneer and panela are mild in flavor and created with acid. And other than their origins, the only noticeable difference is that panela has more salt added.
Swapping these two is simple since you can use an equal amount of panela in place of the paneer listed in a recipe.
Extra-firm tofu is an excellent substitution for paneer in soups and curries.
Tofu can be cubed like paneer and will hold its shape in hot liquid dishes. The firmer the tofu, the more similar it will be in texture to paneer.
You can also crumble tofu, but it will not add a creamy flavor like paneer since it isn’t cheese.
For this reason, I would skip tofu for cold applications and opt for a different substitute that will bring more flavor to the dish.
However, tofu is great in heavily seasoned soups and curries. The tofu will add protein and texture and absorb the dish’s flavors.
This also makes for a perfect vegan swap for paneer. Tofu is made from soybeans, whereas paneer is made from animal milk.
Ricotta is an Italian cheese that easily substitutes for paneer in cold dishes, especially desserts.
I’ll advise you not to swap paneer for ricotta in soups or curries because it will melt into the hot liquid. However, I have successfully added dollops of ricotta on top of a hot curry after it’s been plated.
This way, it isn’t being mixed into and lost in the hot liquid. Instead, you can dip into the dollops with a spoon as you eat.
For the best results, make sure the ricotta is well-drained. The more water you can release from the cheese, the more similar its texture will be to paneer.
Pro-Tip: To remove moisture from your ricotta, lay out two layers of cheesecloth and put your ricotta on top. Bring all the corners together above the cheese and continue to twist until the cheesecloth is as tight as possible around the ricotta. Squeeze with all your might to release as much liquid as possible.
Ricotta has an even creamier flavor than the very mild paneer, and in sweet dishes like Kalakand or Kheer, you’ll be surprised just how rich they taste.
Feta cheese is an excellent substitution in place of Chenna, the more crumbly and soft variety of paneer. However, feta is a much saltier cheese.
When swapping out these ingredients, remember that Chenna is often used for sweet recipes, so consider feta’s higher salt content.
It’s also a good idea to cut back on any added salt in your recipe. That could mean using unsalted butter instead of salted, opting for low-sodium seasonings, or eliminating added salt altogether.
Using feta in place of regular paneer in hot and cold dishes is an excellent swap, and the added sodium can even elevate your meal’s flavor.
Swap feta for Chenna or regular paneer in equal amounts, considering the added salt.
Try Queso Blanco as a perfect swap in soups, curries, kebabs, sandwiches, salads, and flatbreads.
Although Queso Blanco comes from Mexico and paneer from India, they both have a crumbly texture that softens but doesn’t melt when heated. And they both have a flavor mild enough to be perfect for savory or sweet applications.
Queso Blanco and Paneer are both fresh cheeses that also happen to be vegetarian. While many kinds of cheese are made using animal rennet, both of these options rely on acid to form their curds.
Cottage cheese is like the looser, saltier, American version of paneer. It will melt into a dish more than paneer but still maintain some lumpy texture from the cheese curds.
In most cases, you can treat cottage cheese in the same way as you would ricotta in place of paneer.
Because of the creaminess of cottage cheese, this is great for sweet dishes that call for paneer. For example, instead of chenna poda, you could make cottage cheese poda, puddings, and kheer.
Sometimes, I’ll drain some of the liquid from my cottage cheese before adding it to baked recipes that might require a more precise wet-to-dry ratio.
Mozzarella isn’t a perfect paneer substitute, but it will work in a pinch. It has a similarly mild flavor but is saltier by comparison.
One of the biggest differences with mozzarella is that it will melt when heated. So, it shouldn’t be used for kebabs, and expect it to melt if added to soup or curry.
I treat it how I would when adding ricotta to a hot dish. Drop in chunks of the cheese after the meal has been plated, so the mozzarella won’t melt and fully incorporate into the dish. Instead, you’ll be able to scoop out small semi-melty chunks as you eat.
You can add it to cold dishes like salads and sandwiches, but it will have to be shredded since it won’t crumble like paneer. Mozzarella is stretched after the curds have formed, leading to a drastic texture difference.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is paneer actually cheese?
Paneer is a fresh Indian cheese made from curdled milk (from a cow or goat) and an acid, like lemon juice.
Can I use mozzarella cheese in place of paneer?
You can use mozzarella instead of paneer when the dish is cold since mozzarella will melt more than paneer in a hot dish.
Are paneer and cottage cheese the same thing?
Cottage cheese is the American equivalent of paneer. They’re very similar in taste but have a noticeable difference in texture. Cottage cheese is loose with small cheese curds, while paneer has a consistency more like extra-firm tofu.