Where is the Indian Cheese Platter?

Paneer Crumble

India is a land of cultural variety and there’s certainly no exception when it comes to food!

Punjabi Saag, Kerala fish curry, Kashmiri Gushtaba, Pondicherry Ratatouille may as well be from other sides of the planet. India’s history has weaved through the original Indigenous population, Sultanates, Mughal Invasions and Colonial empires and given the people of each geography a range of original and/or cross cultural specialties.

All of this and keeping in mind India’s natural topography includes the Himalayas in the North and tropical weather in the South!

India - Himalayas
People living in and around the Himalayas have evolved their diets around the climate
India - Kerala
Polar opposite in Kerala where temperatures are almost tropical

Given all the cultures and food variety — it does beg the question — why didn’t cheese get a place in Indian food?


There is one exception to the rule when it comes to cheese in India — Paneer. More than likely the only type of cheese you’ll find in your local Indian restaurant.

Paneer is made by boiling milk followed by adding an acidic substance (soured whey, lemon juice, vinegar etc.) and thereby curdling the milk and separating the liquid remnants with the now slow forming and cooling Paneer.

Pondicherry Ratatouille at Lavendra - Paneer
Pondicherry Ratatouille at Lavendra

Until not long ago even Paneer was not on the menu for Indians and this gives us a clue into the underdeveloped culture of cheese in India.

Here’s a few reasons why India doesn’t have cheese platters:

  1. Indians valued the cow and all milk products to a level where they revered it. This is why they didn’t believe in curdling milk or preserving it to the point where it became mouldy because frankly — it was spoiling it. For Indians this was trying to fix something that was holy and not broken!
  2. Paneer was introduced to the Indian diet by Middle Eastern invaders who had different ideas about the value of milk. Most of the time it was the invaders themselves consuming these products compared to the locals who didn’t develop a taste for Paneer until after Mughlai restaurants became popularised.
  3. A lot of India was not exposed to foreign influences for them to start developing a new ‘cheese culture’ .This meant very limited parts of India were exposed to cheese and where consumption existed — very few locals were consuming it anyway.
  4. Chenna — a product similar to Paneer was introduced to East India by the Portuguese in the 17th century. East Indians began using Chenna in dessert so the idea of culturing, curing and ageing never evolved. What cheese meant to Indians took a very different tangent to how it was developing in the west.

At Lavendra we’re working on bringing you Paneer as a cheese platter with three different textures. Not aged, rennet infused or cured but a start for our journey experimenting with cheese in Indian food!

Watch our video below on how we make Traditional Paneer at Lavendra, or check it out on YouTube  — https://youtu.be/f1yjlrC7QVg

Indian Restaurant Cooking Vs Indian Home Cooking

I’ve come across many a customer who hasn’t a clue what Indian home cooking tastes like.

Let me give you a clue – It’s nothing like what you’ve had in an Indian restaurant. In fact, they’re both nowhere near each other in similarity. This unknowingness is what started my quest: to present my Australian audience with cuisine from India that hasn’t quite hit the shelves yet!

European cuisines brings ‘Nona’s cooking’ to your plate – How something so fragile and loving made it to your plate after a lineage brought it down, treasured it and re-pieced it based on living and oral memory. Not a tagline associated with Indian food. In fact, Indians, when eating out (ask your Indian friends about this) will go to Indian restaurants for the sake of variation.
For a few years I reflected on the divide between the two cooking styles – on why a culture where travelling 100 km meant new street dishes, new sweet meats, different types of wedding food and where ‘seasonal food’ was the norm rather than a ‘special’ couldn’t grasp the concept of presenting those treasures abroad. Indian restaurateurs in India and overseas created fusions, adaptations and experimental cuisines (one of my friends recently told me about being served curry with popcorn as the garnish) but no one gave home cooking any heed.

‘Indian street food’

Hence, in the back of my mind, ideas for Lavendra were brewing. What if I brought Australians the taste of rural Punjab, Bengal or Lahore? The dishes we salivate over at home when thinking about these cities.


I’ve been involved with traditional Indian restaurant cooking at Grace of India and eating homemade (aka mum made) Indian food since I was born – Mum would serve up Gajjar Mattar (Carrot and peas curry), Kadhoo Sabzi (Pumpkin curry) with Lasan Aachaar (Garlic pickle) after school and my evenings consisted of Dad cooking me an array of classical Indian dishes you’d expect at your local Indian – from Tandoori lamb cutlets, Butter chicken, Prawn masala, Paneer tikka masala in the evenings (Back in my meat eating days). I was really getting the best of both worlds!

As I gradually grew into the business I found many of our regular diners hadn’t experienced the cooking at home that I’d grown up with – even to the point where I believe – some people have become so closed minded about Indian food that they have trouble accepting this side of Indian food – when I present it at LAVENDRA they label it fusion!

Both serve the purpose – Tasty, nutritious and made with love but there’s a lot yet to be seen when I’m t comes to the Indian restaurant scene adopting dishes from home and this is what we’ve been working on for 4 years quietly (not so quietly now). In my previous Summer Menu at LAVENDRA I had a homemade dish called ‘Kashmiri Baingan’ – a simple eggplant dish that I’ve relished growing up. Try it at home and let me know how it goes!

Ingredients (Serves 6):
2 eggplants, cut into 2cm cubes
1/4 cup (60ml) vegetable oil
4cm piece ginger, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon hot chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
400g can chopped tomatoes
Chopped coriander leaves, to garnish


Place the eggplant cubes in a large colander and sprinkle liberally with salt. Set aside to drain for 10 minutes, then rinse the eggplant well and pat dry well with paper towel.

Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the ginger and spices and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. In batches, add the eggplant cubes and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the eggplant has softened slightly. Return all the eggplant to the wok, then stir in the canned tomato and 1 cup (250ml) water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 12-15 minutes until the eggplant is tender and the sauce has thickened. Season with salt, garnish with coriander and serve.

At LAVENDRA we want you to come experience rare Indian dishes, our adaptations of mums cooking and play on Australian ingredients with Indian cooking methods. I’ll be bringing you a new menu every season!



Newly Opened Indian Restaurant Lavendra


Read the full article here – dailytelegraph.com.au

The Secret to tasty Indian menu

THERE’S nothing fresher than fruit from the garden. And when it’s harvested from one of Sydney’s most famous leafy enclaves it has an even sweeter taste.

Newly opened Indian restaurant Lavendra is using produce from neighbouring Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden on its menu.

Juicy cumquats grown just metres away are currently on offer and are paired up with lamb cutlets. “I approached Wendy and asked her as I’d like to use seasonal ingredients, third-generation restaurateur Inderpreet Singh said.

Whiteley said yes and a food fusion was born. Mr Singh plans to take the best of the season from the garden with Whiteley’s permission.

The pairing also goes straight to the heart of what he is trying to achieve at the family owned restaurant blending both his Australian and Indian heritage through food. “It’s unique Australian produce combined with traditional and contemporary

Indian cooking methods in order to bring out the best in our two cultures,” he said. “I’m finding the best combinations.

“Everything is very ingredients-focused. We bring out the best flavours of the ingredients using Indian cooking methods.”

Other highlights on the menu include salmon cooked in Malibu and coconut oil, and a korma dish using macadamia.

The most popular dish to date has been baby barramundi cooked in garlic, ginger and mint. “We leave it overnight and then slow cook it in the tandoor,” he said. “It results in a very nice crispy outside and a very tender inside.” The new North Sydney restaurant is in an iconic location on Walker St over-looking Sydney Harbour. Mr Singh comes with decades of experience as he grew up watching his father at Grace of India restaurant at Milsons Point.

For the menu he has hand-picked recipes from across India and matched it with Australian products. Favourites from Goa, Punjab and Chennai have all been given an Australian update. “It’s just amazing,” he said. “A lot of people come in and say they’ve never tasted Indian food like it.”

Andrea McCullagh