What better way to start the day than with a white, warm and creamy drink that is dusted with a little cinnamon? If I had to imagine the taste of magical orchid clouds (and you know how fond of clouds yours truly is – if you don’t, just follow my Instagram stories and you will find out!-), I think this would be it!
Sahlab or salep is a popular winter drink in Turkey and throughout the Middle East. It is prepared using milk, mastic, orange blossom water and of course sahlab powder. Salep or Sahlab powder is made from the tubers of orchids (called sahlabiat in Arabic hence the name sahlab). Wild orchids that grow in the mountains to be specific. It takes 1000 orchids to produce 1 kg of salep powder, which explains why this stuff is somewhat expensive!
Salep/ sahlab powder is white, starchy and has a velvety smooth texture. When added to milk, it lends the milk that velvety texture and adds a unique creamy taste that you just have to try.
Salep is also a key ingredient in traditional Turkish ice cream. If you have ever tried it, you’d know that it has a very unique stretch and taste. Sahlab is the magical secret ingredient that lends it that texture. To give you an idea of how popular Salep icecream and the warm salep winter drink are in Turkey in particular, check out this article on BBC news on how the growth of the ice cream industry in Turkey put the orchids on the endangered plant list a few years ago!
4 cups (1 Liter) milk
4-5 tablespoons sugar (you can use more or less according to your preference)
2 teaspoons Sahlab powder
1/4 teaspoon ground Mastic
1 tablespoon Orange blossom water
any or all of the following:
ground cinnamon, coarsely chopped walnuts, pistachio and shredded coconut.
- Place the milk in a saucepan but set aside 1/2 first.
- Add sugar and mastic, stir over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
- In a small bowl, mix the sahlab powder with the 1/2 cup of milk you set aside earlier and stir until it dissolves completely.
- Pour the sahlab/milk mixture into the saucepan and whisk vigorously on low heat to avoid the formation of any lumps. Keep whisking for around 5 minutes until the milk thickens.
- Turn off the heat and add the orange blossom water and mix .
- Pour Sahlab into serving cups.
- Garnish with cinnamon and nuts according to your liking.
- The recipe is usually prepared with full fat milk but you can use skimmed milk or non-dairy milk if you like, coconut milk in particular works beautifully in this recipe.
- You should be able to find sahlab in middle eastern stores (if you have any specialty Turkish store nearby, they should sell it) but do make a point of asking if what they sell is a sahlab “mix” or the actual sahlab powder because many stores tend to prepare a blend of cornstarch, rice flour, sugar and flavorings and they sell that off as sahlab/Salep. To help you verify which is which, you only need 1/2 a teaspoon of Sahlab powder to thicken 1 cup of milk as opposed to 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of cornstrach, so if you do buy the mix, you will notice that you will need a lot more of it to thicken the milk.
- If Sahlab powder is not available you can make this same recipe by substituting the amount of sahlab listed above with 5-6 tbsp of cornstarch for every 1 liter of milk.The taste will be slightly different but it is still worth a try as the other flavor notes being played here, namely the orange blossom water, mastic and cinnamon do result in a wonderful winter drink that is still worth a try.