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Sep

salep-replacement copy

I have known salep all my life. I have had it in ice cream and in the eponymous winter drink which we used to buy on the street in Beirut after late nights out on the town, to have with croissants or ka’keh (sesame galette). Still, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I finally saw what salep looks like in its un-powdered form. I was walking through the bazaars of Safranbolu, in Turkey’s Black Sea region with my great friend, Nevin Halici, when I noticed lovely necklaces of dried translucent objects hanging outside several shops. I asked Nevin what they were and she said salep (dried orchis tubers that are ground into a fine powder which acts as a thickening agent). And inside the shop we entered, there was a very large jar of the salep in powdered form.

Very exciting. I had never seen so much salep in my whole life. I had to buy some of course. But before I committed to spending a respectable sum — salep is rare and precious and as a result expensive — I asked Nevin to be my taster to make sure it was good quality. It is often mixed with cornstarch. Nevin approved and I left the shop with several necklaces plus an enormous amount of ground salep. Enough to last me years. You can see from the picture that the tubers are different. Some are dark and large and others are smaller, lighter and somewhat transparent. This is because they are different tubers.

They are too hard to grind at home but I like to have them lying around. They are very pretty; and I use them in some of my classes to show students what salep looks like. As for the powdered stock, I am going through it slowly and now that the weather is cooling, I will be making the drink again. Here is a recipe just in case you can get some.

Salep/Sahlab

The best salep is Turkish and you can recognise it from the slightly greyish colour of the fine powder. Salep in Turkey is usually drunk with simit, and in Israel and Egypt, it is garnished with nuts, raisins, and dessicated coconut while in Lebanon and Syria the garnish is a sprinkling of ground cinnamon. A similar drink was common in France in the 17th-century. Here is more on the subject.

Serves 4

4 cups whole milk

1/2 teaspoon ground mastic

1 tablespoon Turkish salep

6 tablespoons sugar

ground cinnamon for garnish

Pour the milk in a saucepan and place over a medium heat. As the milk warms up, remove a little and mix it with the mastic. Bring the rest of the milk to the boil then add the salep little by little, in very small amounts so that it does not form lumps. Keep stirring over the heat for about 5 minutes, before adding the sugar and stirring for another 3 minutes. Stir in the mastic milk and ladle into soup bowls. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and serve hot as is or with simit, ka’keh or croissants.

©anissa helou from Mediterranean Street Food

And here is a short clip which I shot in the most wonderful cafe in Safranbolu where the owner played music with some friends, while a lady made saç boreks and we drank tea. Must go back.


There is 32 comments on this post


  • c’est superbe Anissa. Un de mes fournisseurs au Liban en vend du pur qui est delicieux mais je n’en avais jamais vu ainsi.
    j’ai finalement jete le kamakh nisa’ trop sale a mon gout pour en faire quelque chose. regrette que tu ne sois pas avec nous pour le repas ottoman.


  • Hello,
    I like reading about your culinary adventures! I have wanted to try salep for a long time now, but have had no luck finding it in the US. I have heard that it was rare and that it couldn’t be exported out of Turkey, but it sounds like you were able to take some with you. Is there a way to buy some from someone in Turkey and have it sent to the US?
    Thanks for your help,
    eir


  • oui, je pense que je vais jeter le mien aujourd’hui. je t’avais dit que c’etait trop sale. Qui est ton fournisseur a Beirut que j’aille voir. et moi aussi, je suis desolee de ne pas etre au repas ottoman. j’attends les photos.


  • i also tried once, when i was doing a dinner in california but the only people who had some were the persians who made salep ice cream but they wouldn’t part with any. where are you in the US? i’ll ask for you re. someone sending it from turkey.


  • Oh, I love sahlab! Sadly, I’ve never been able to find any here in Vancouver.

    Just out of curiosity, can I ask you what that 17th century French drink is that you were referring to? I am originally from France, but I have never heard of such a recipe – and whatever that drink was, if it’s similar to sahlab, we need to bring it back! :)


  • i think it’s the same as the drink i give the recipe for but will double check in the larousse gastronomique when i am back home. mind you there must be one at the london library where i am right now but i don’t have time to check.


  • I love sahlab! Like you say Anissa, it was a classic to have after a late night out. I had never seen what it looks like so thank you for sharing, very interesting!


  • Hi,
    I live in Wisconsin.
    Thanks for your help,
    eir


  • let me check if the store in Lebanon can ship some to the us and canada. will ask him and let you know


  • great. thanks brigitte. xx


  • Hi Anissa (and readers)

    I was looking for pure sahlab a while back, and I even tried the spice markets in Lebanon, but everyone seemed to have the pre-packaged, cornstarch and mastic mix. The good news is that I’ve come across a site a few months back that sells sahlab. http://www.buylebanese.com/browse.asp?pr=495&x=11&y=5

    It claims that it’s pure sahlab (with no cornstarch added) but at $12 for 900 grams, I’m a bit dubious. In any case, it’s not a whole lot of money to waste. They seem to ship worldwide.

    Anissa, here’s the thing though: they don’t ship food products to Australia. You don’t think you might be able to bring some over for me when you are in Sydney in October, do you? :) I’d love even the smallest amount. Just don’t put it in a little plastic sleeve, otherwise, the sniffer dogs might get suspicious hehehe.


  • impossible. 900 g will be a lot more than $12, so, it’s not sahlab. as for bringing some, i hear regulations are very strict, so, it’s unlikely that i will take the risk and bring some :) . pointless if they are going to take it away and i don’t feel like getting into trouble at customs. sorry.

  • George-Athens/Greece
    September 3, 2010 at 6:23 am

    Yeah, I’ve got to agree that it’s real expensive…here in Athens one may find Greek organic powdered salep in some organic groceries…even a ready-made mixture (containing, of course, powdered milk) to prepare your salep drink in minutes appears on shelves during winter!


  • we have the same in Lebanon. they are not too bad but it’s really easy to make your own with good, organic milk or goat’s milk.


  • I learn something new ever ytime I visit your blog:-)


  • i am so glad to read this. i try to make the blog interesting and fun :)


  • I was on a search for sahlab and found it both in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and in Beirut at Goodies in Verdun. Never saw the actual orchids and so that is a thrill! Great post as usual!


  • thanks joumana. glad you enjoyed it.


  • Just checking in to see if anyone found a source for salep in North America. Thanks!


  • What a fascianting post!
    It is really almost impossible to get pure, unadultered sahlep.
    To finally be able to see the real thing makes your blog so precious.
    Thank you for sharing that, Anissa!


  • you are right brigitta. it is v difficult to get the real thing. glad you are enjoying my blog.


  • I was looking for a good recipe for Sahlab and came across your site. Very interesting about the sahlab and the picture of the plant and the story of the powder made from it. Years ago I bought the powder in Saudi but was not sure how to use it. I grew up drinking this but my late mother used to make it with cornstarch and sugar and would flavor it. (Sadly I never took the recipe from her as it was soo good). Will look for the powder in Amman but hope it is pure and not adulterated with cornstarch. So the pure sahlab has a thickening effect? But what is the natural flavor of it? Thanks for the info


  • it has a little flavor, kind of a dirty one, from the earth but it’s v faint. it is a thickener but with a kind of stretchy quality and in ice cream, a chewy one as well. it’s v difficutl to find unadulterated salep outside of turkey. even there, it can be mixed with cornstarch. worth buying when you find it despite it being expensive.


  • I realize this post is several years later than the last, but I wanted to mention that salep can purchased via Amazon. There are several sources, just check. I enjoyed the video very much, the musical group was fun, and what a treat watching the baker work with her rolling pin!


  • Where can I find pure salep not the mix drink in North America?? New York??


  • i am afraid it is unlikely you will find any. your best bet is to ask kalustyans (you will find them online) but they couldn’t find it for me a few years back :)


  • I’m a doctor in Turkey. Salep is my favorite drink so I was trying to find the best quality salep in Turkey. And I’ve found a villager who is breading the best quality orchids(for salep) in Turkey (as far as I know).If you want some, you can send an e-mail to me:eonforce.gmail.com. And I can send you via post.


  • thank you so much gokay. would love some. will send you my address by email.


  • Hi,

    Great blog. Really enjoyed reading it and the video is great too.
    Recently i bought some good pure salep from Greece. I wonder if there is any difference between the turkish and greek one? Does anyone know?

    And if you would like to order the greek one here is the website http://www.pepperhouse.gr/

    Tina


  • You can find Sahlab at a store called penzeys they ship almost everywhere in the US

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