Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sahlab: A Middle Eastern Drink

I have a particular fondness for warm drinks -- hot tea, hot chocolate, chai, hot toddies, etc. So, when I visited one of my favorite restaurants (Tarboosh) for the very first time, the extremely nice waitresses said I "had" to try this drink.

Which, of course, I did, and it's now a favorite of mine.
It's called "Sahlab" (or Salep), and its found all over the Middle East (Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, etc) and they all have their own variations (as to be expected.)

The one I tried was a wonderfully thick milk-based drink with finely ground pistachios and cinnamon, then whisked into a wonderful froth!

Technically, Sahlab is made from the starch found in the ground bulb of the orchid, Orchis mascula, and you mix it in with milk (kinda like hot cocoa powder). When I asked the waitress the ingredients, she told me they used milk & cornstarch, so it might be that it's more difficult to get, but I'm going to scour the local Middle Eastern stores to see if they carry it.

I wonder how much of a difference it'll taste betweeen using cornstarch & the sahlab mix?

Upon scouring the web, I found several recipes, but this one appears to be the closest recipe used by the restaurant: TourEgypt.net

Recipe for Sahlab

* 1 1/2 tablespoons Sahlab powder or 2 tablespoons cornstarch
* 4 cups milk
* 3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
* 2 teaspoons rose or orange-blossom water ( optional )
* 2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachios
* Ground cinnamon

Mix the Sahlab powder or cornstarch with a few tablespoons of milk. Bring the remaining milk to a boil. Pour in the starch mixture, stirring vigorously, so that lumps do not form. Cook over very low heat, stirring continuously, until the milk thickens ( about 10 minutes). Then stir in the sugar and the rose water or orange blossom water, if you so desire.

Serve in cups with the chopped pistachios and cinnamon as garnish. You may also sprinkle grated coconut on top.

The ones I've had do not seem to have rose or orange-blossom water, nor is there coconut. But, since I am fond of coconut, this seems to be a nice optional touch. I'm also going to try this with goat's milk as sometimes cow's milk and I don't get along very well.

Enjoy the drink, and let me know how you like it.