From Protein Folding to Punjabi Pea Paneer
✿ Making fresh Indian cheese, or paneer, used to be a bit of a production in my home. My mother would start with not-so-fresh milk (why “waste” good milk, was her reasoning), bring it to a boil and then add lemon juice. In fascination, I watched the rapid separation of flocculant white curd from transparently greenish whey. That was my first encounter with the biochemistry of protein denaturation, although I would go on to ruin perfectly good batches of enzymes during my graduate career.
✿ Proteins must be folded properly – into elegant ribbons, twisted helices, graceful loops and tight turns – not only to function properly but also to stay in solution (image 2). Too much heat, salt, acid or any number of adverse conditions cause proteins to unfold just enough to get their sticky inside parts to glom together. In a concerted show of protest, they leave the solution as a precipitate. Which brings us back to cheese. The curd is gathered into cheesecloth and suspended over a bowl to drain, before being packed into a brick under some heavy pots and pans. These days, one just reaches into the freezer of the local Patel Brothers for a perfectly rectangular brick of paneer.
✿ This quintessential Punjabi dish of peas and paneer is called Mattar Paneer. The gravy is vegan, with richness of cashew nuts in place of dairy cream. You can make this dish entirely vegan by replacing the paneer with baby potatoes boiled in their jackets (Alu Mattar..mmm!) or a cheese substitute of your choice.
✿ Recipe, a memorium to a lost G+ friend, and a harrowing tale of protein denaturation from my graduate student days at: https://madamescientist.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/from-protein-folding-to-punjabi-pea-paneer/