recipe: sahlab

Sahlab is a popular wintertime drink throughout the Middle East. The drink is made with milk and salep, a flour made from the tuberous root of a species of orchid, Orchis mascula. Salep has a faintly floral taste, but the drink is mainly consumed for its thick texture. Other flavorings, such as orange blossom water and rose water, are added to the drink just before serving and it is traditional to dust the cup with a couple pinches of cinnamon.

 Pure salep is notoriously difficult (and expensive!) to come by outside of Turkey, so you’re more likely to find powdered mixes with cornstarch, sugar, and a small amount of salep sold in Middle Eastern groceries. I’ve also seen people ditch the salep altogether and use cornstarch in its place. Even when only made with cornstarch, sahlab is a great drink for those chilly winter nights and a good alternative for those who don’t like tea or coffee. Salep is also a key ingredient in Turkish ice cream (dondurma), which is known for its chewy texture and resistance to melting.


2 cups milk (Whole milk is my milk of choice, but use low-fat or non-fat if you’d like)
sugar, to taste (if using pure sahlab powder or cornstarch, most if not all pre-packaged sahlab mixes already include sugar)
2 tablespoons sahlab powder or cornstarch

Optional flavorings and garnishes:

Rose water (1/2 teaspoon per serving)
Orange blossom water (1/2 teaspoon per serving)
Almond extract
Shredded coconut
Chopped nuts (pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts)
Ground cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg, for dusting

Add the milk (and sugar, if using) to a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally until hot, then add the sahlab powder or cornstarch and stir constantly until the mixture thickens. If adding extra flavorings, like rosewater, orange blossom water, almond extract, or vanilla, stir those in once the drink has thickened. Divide the drink into individual cups and garnish with chopped nuts, coconut, and dust with cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg.

Serves 2

Originally posted in February 2012

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