Sahleb is a delightful Middle Eastern winter drink, milky and creamy with a hint of exotic flavors. It’s so easy to make! Even easier with this version which uses cornstarch instead of the harder to source sahlab powder.
What is sahleb (sahlab?)
Sahleb is also known as sahlab, sahlep, and salep. I didn’t even know this before I started writing this blog post, but sahlab is actually a flour made from the tubers of an orchid flower.
Sahleb powder itself basically functions as a thickener. If you find plain sahleb powder, that would take the place of cornstarch in this recipe, and you’d need a lot less (you can see the amount below in the ingredients section of the post). It thickens significantly more than cornstarch, so just a little suffices.
In the Middle East, ready made sahleb drink mixes are usually found which are different than plain powder. The ready mix usually has sugar and powdered milk in it and you need to just add milk or water.
What is sahlab drink?
It’s a milky, creamy warm drink common in the Middle East, Turkey and Greece. It’s served in the winter and often includes the sahlab powder mentioned above as a thickener.
Thick and delicious, with hints of exotic flavor from rose water, orange blossom water and mastic (more on that in the ingredient section).
Sahleb is a winter tradition. It’s almost a dessert in a cup! We top it with lots of toppings to make it even more decadent, and you could practically eat it with a spoon. It’s also common to dip kaak bread in it (like a sweetened dry rusk).
What to top sahleb with?
Cinnamon powder is a must! A little dusting of cinnamon on the top of sahleb is tradition. It’s also commonly topped with finely chopped nuts. I like walnuts and pistachios. Some places top it with sweetened coconut and raisins too. I like to mix it up!
What ingredients do you need?
Milk: I recommend whole milk for the most creaminess
Sugar: Most recipes call for more, but I recommend 4 tbsp of sugar for a balanced, sweet drink. If you like your drinks a little less sweet, you can reduce this to 3 tbsp.
Cornstarch: This is the thickener I use in the recipe, instead of sahleb powder which is more difficult to find. You need four times as much cornstarch as sahleb, so in this recipe I use 4 heaped tbsp of cornstarch. If you actually do have sahleb powder, you can use that instead, and use just 1 tbsp.
Rose Water and Orange Blossom Water: These add beautiful fragrance to the drink, and that characteristic exotic flavor.
Mastic Gum: This is the strangest ingredient in the list, but it adds so much flavor! This is a commonly used plant resin that gives a refreshing, pine like flavor to the drinks and desserts its added to. It needs to be crushed before using, you can use a mortar and pestle, or blend it in a blender with the sugar.
It’s known for helping with digestion, and can be found in some health food stores as well as most Middle Eastern supply shops.
If you can’t find it, you can definitely leave it out! If you do manage to get some on hand, I do recommend trying it out, it’s definitely an interesting flavor.
Cinnamon: I added a cinnamon stick to the milk while it was simmering to give it flavor. You can also add a pinch of cinnamon powder, or neither to the cooking milk and just top the finished product with cinnamon.
How to make sahlab:
- Off the heat, whisk together the milk and cornstarch thoroughly for a good minute or so until no lumps remain.
- Place the saucepan on medium low heat, add the sugar and crushed mastic (crush mastic with a mortar or pestle, or blend it in a spice grinder or blender along with the sugar to make the blending process easier).
- Add the cinnamon stick, and whisk continuously until thickened and smooth. The consistency should be between a drink and a pudding, thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Pour the drink into mugs, and top with garnishes of choice. Enjoy warm!
Storing leftover sahlab:
Leftovers can be stored tightly covered for 1-2 days and gently reheated on the stovetop or microwave.
If you liked this recipe, you might like:
- 4 cups milk, cold
- 4 heaped tbsp cornstarch (cornflour)
- 3-4 tbsp sugar I used 4, if you like your drinks barely sweet reduce to 3.
- 5-6 small pieces mastic, crushed about 1/2 teaspoon total, see notes
- 1 cinnamon stick or pinch cinnamon, optional
- 1 tsp orange blossom water
- 1 tsp rose water
- chopped pistachios or walnuts, cinnamon powder, shredded coconut (optional) for garnish
- In a large saucepan whisk together the milk and the cornstarch thoroughly, for about one minute until no lumps remain.
- Place on medium low heat, add the sugar and crushed mastic and whisk to combine. Add cinnamon stick if using.
- Continue to cook and whisk until thickened into a consistency that's thicker than hot chocolate but looser than pudding, or to the consistency of your taste! This can take anywhere from 6-10 minutes. Don't be tempted to increase the heat because the milk can easily burn.
- Once thick and creamy, pour sahleb into serving cups of choice, and top with garnishes of your choice. Traditionally, nuts are common (pistachio or walnut), as well as cinnamon powder, and sometimes raisins and shredded coconut. Enjoy warm, so good!
Middle Eastern sahlab drink (milk pudding) by everylittlecrumb on Jumprope.