It's been a while, hasn't it?
I definitely missed the routine of cooking, writing and picture taking, but if you follow me on Instagram, you may have put together that I was out of the country on a trip to Istanbul. It was a mini reunion trip for me with some of my family from Syria, and Istanbul was beyond amazing as a venue! The city was an experience for the senses, from breathtaking sights to nostalgic sounds, aromatic scents to tantalizing tastes and the feel of a big city waiting for you to discover it all. There was so much to see that I felt I could stay there for months and not do everything I wanted to!
Of course, being the foodie that I am, I couldn’t wait to dive into the Turkish food scene. Everywhere you look, there are enticing foods begging for you to try them. Many things reminded me of what I would find in Damascus, but there were also things I had never heard of, and all of which I fell in love with. I could write posts upon posts about the food and what I tried, but this one will be dedicated to Sahlab.
Sahlab, or Salep as it is called in Turkey, is a thickened, almost pudding-like, hot milk drink originally made with dried orchid tubers that are ground into a fine powder. The orchid powder acts as a thickening agent while infusing floral notes into the milk. The drink is slightly sweetened and topped with cinnamon for an added hint of flavor. You’ll find warm mugs of it served in street carts, cafes and restaurants alike.
Sahlab is popular in the winter all over the Middle East, which is why I grew up enjoying this delicious, comforting drink. My mother would make it for us whenever the weather began to cool down a bit to remind her of her days in Syria as well as introduce us to such traditions. It was (and still is) a favorite of mine and my siblings.
Genuine Sahlab powder is expensive and hard to come by, but if you find it, do not pass it up! Many times, the instant powders claiming to be Sahlab, are only flavored as such and because of this, I came up with my own version of the drink that surprisingly, is pretty spot on.
This simple version consist of milk, sugar and cornstarch for the slightly sweetend, thickened milk aspect and is flavored with vanilla, rose water and mastic gum to mimic the floral notes of the orchid tuber.
Having just come back from a trip to its place of origin, it seems a fitting time as any to share the recipe with you. It’s simple to make, delicious, and the perfect drink to warm you up on a chilly day. It can even be enjoyed cold with a spoon, like a floral vanilla pudding on warmer days and is just as satisfying.
2 1-Cup or 4 1/2-Cup Servings
Whisk together 1/2 cup of the cold milk, cornstarch and vanilla until the cornstarch has dissolved and set aside.
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the remaining 1 1/2 cups of milk, sugar and mastic gum (if using) to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, whisk in the milk and cornstarch mixture, and allow to simmer until the milk thickens, about 3-5 minutes. Add the rose water and whisk to combine.
Pour into mugs, sprinkle with cinnamon and enjoy.