Sahlab (Middle Eastern Milk Pudding)
Sahlab is the name of a lovely and comforting warm creamy winter hot drink in the Middle East.
It can also have more of a pudding consistency and be eaten with a spoon.
Itâ€™s often served with a crushed pistachio nut topping, and maybe a spice like cinnamon.
Made using a unique thickener which provides an uncommon but delicious flavor.
What is Sahlab?
Sahlab is a Middle Eastern milk pudding, usually served to warm you up on a cold day.
The same way that you might enjoy hot chocolate as a winter drink.
Sometimes nuts and raisins are incorporated along with rose water, or orange blossom water, giving it a rich complex flavor.
The powder sahlab is like magic, it turns your milk and cream into a yummy thick and nutritious pudding.
This is all thanks to a flower that is a real beauty in itself; the wild orchid.
The powder comes from tubers of the orchid roots which are dried and ground into flour.
The Romans used to make a drink from grinding up orchid bulbs that they used as an aphrodisiac.
The drink became popular in the Ottoman times, and then spread to Europe and the Middle East.
How to Make Sahlab
It is very similar to making pudding, but even easier.
Start by heating milk and cream over medium heat until warm.
Combine the sugar and the sahlab, then add to the milk and cream.
Using a whisk, stir constantly until it comes to a gentle boil.
Turn down the heat, and add the rose water.
Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool.
(Depending on how much of the thickener you put in you will have either a thick custard drink, or a lovely pudding.)
Then, pour the mixture into small bowls, and chill in the fridge for an hour.
Or pour it into cups and drink it warm.
A nice twist on this dessert is to add coffee or chocolate into the mix to get a really super flavored sweet snack.
And it really doesnâ€™t have to stop there.
There are all kinds of options like putting fruit at the bottom, or sprinkling it with raisins.
Cacao nibs or coconut sprinkled on top is lovely, or even use it to make booza ice cream.
Slivered almonds also make a nice addition, or molasses, honey, or even peanut butter, pralines, or salted toffee.
But you get the idea.
This pudding is a great launching pad for your favorite flavors and tasty treats.
What to Use as Sahlab Powder Substitute
Sahlab can be difficult to find in a normal supermarket.
I would recommend trying your local Middle Eastern store, if you have one.
It can also be referred to as sahlab mix, or salep powder.
Otherwise, you can make a homemade imitation of sahlab with just one ingredient.
Sahlab is basically the thickener for this dessert.
For each tablespoon of sahlab, substitute a Â¼ cup of cornstarch.
A Word on Sustainability
Like all tasty things, there can be a down side, and in this case it is sustainability of the plants the powder comes from.
This drink/pudding is so popular that there are areas in Turkey and Iran where some plant species have become extinct.
There are now controls placed on exports from those countries where this has occurred.
It is a good idea to research where your sahlab comes from, and where no sustainability program exists use cornstarch.
We certainly want to enjoy food from the natural world, but not to the point of losing the resource completely.
Developing and supporting sustainability programs is key to living in our world responsibly.
Tips for Making
- If making it as a drink, pour custard into mugs, or glass cups for an authentic look.
- Sprinkle toppings, using as much or as little as you like.
- If making as a pudding, stir in whatever flavoring, fruit, or chocolate chips, or pralines as you remove from the heat.
- 2 cups Milk or almond milk
- 2 cups Heavy Cream
- 1 tbsp Sahlab Powder or ¼ cup corn starch
- 1 cup Sugar
- 1 tbsp Rosewater
- Add the milk and cream to a saucepan over medium heat.
- Mix sahlab with the sugar.
- Heat milk mixture until warm.
- Add sugar mixture and stir constantly with a whisk until you get a gentle boil (stirring all the time).
- Turn down heat. Add rosewater.
- Remove from heat and pour into small bowls.
- Chill in the fridge for an hour and then enjoy!
I’m wanting to make a fully vegan version and wanted to ask your thoughts on a few things.
Instead of whole milk & heavy cream I am thinking of trying 3 3/4 C of cashew milk and add 1/4 C of virgin coconut oil (to ‘replace’ the fat content). Should I go with less or more of the coconut oil?
Also, I prefer to avoid anything ‘corn’ so considering the use of glutinous rice flour instead of cornstarch. Thoughts? Change in amount of g-rice flour vs. cornstarch?
Great to hear from you. What wonderful questions! I’m excited about the translation of this recipe. Have you thought of 3 cups cashew milk, one cup coconut cream? I would prefer to make it without oil if it was me. In regards to cornstarch, I use arrowroot when not using cornstarch. It works just as well, is a one for one substitute, and works exceptionally well in dairy-less recipes. I hope that helps. Please let me know what you end up doing and how it works out!
Thank you! I truly appreciate your input. I will experiment with those ingredients, then let you know.