RECIPE: Sahlab, Creamy Hot Drink From the Middle East

sahlab recipe
Once considered an aphrodisiac drink, true sahlab is now becoming rarer.

Sahlab, based on an increasingly rare orchid, is a popular winter drink all over the Levant, like hot almond milk. The tubers of Orchis macula are boiled, dried, then ground to a gray powder that, cooked in milk, makes a creamy drink something like a thin, hot malabi pudding (see our recipe for delicious malabi here).

Sahlab has been known since ancient times as a nutritious food for invalids and as medicine for gastric irritation. As the tubers are said to resemble fox testicles, it was considered an aphrodisiac. Easily made at home with powdered root sold in packages at open-air markets, we yet have to consider that Orchis macula is in danger of extinction. Is it ethical to buy real sahlab – even when you can get it? We think not. Although the nutritious – and who knows, maybe aphrodisiac – properties of the root¬† won’t be present, you can make a drink that tastes just like the real thing out of cornstarch and flavorings. The secret’s in the rosewater.

“Sahlab” Winter Drink

serves 4


2 tablespoons cornstarch

4 cups milk

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons rose water

2 tablespoons pistachio nuts, chopped fine

Cinnamon to sprinkle

Mix the cornstarch with 1/2 cup of the milk.

Bring the remaining milk and sugar to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Add the cornstarch mixture (stir to loosen up any starch that settled on the bottom).

Cook for 10 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly to keep lumps from forming.

Add the rose water, stir again, and serve in individual cups.

Scatter chopped pistachios over the surface of each cup; sprinkle with cinnamon.

Sip and enjoy!

More on natural aphrodisiacs on Green Prophet:

Soothing, Sensual Rosewater

Food Libido Enhancers

Photo of sahlab from Ginger and Tomato blog

:: Ginger and Tomato

Miriam Kresh also writes a food blog.

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2 thoughts on “RECIPE: Sahlab, Creamy Hot Drink From the Middle East”

  1. Ixan Ga says:

    Sahlab with orris root tastes quite different from sahlab with rose water being as orris root doesn’t taste like rose water.

    I used to drink it in both the old and new cities of Jerusalem. I preferred the new city versions because I am a freak for cleanliness and that was distinctly lacking in the Arab area. But for taste, both were equal and excellent.

  2. My first night in Israel saw me sipping on a traditional sahab from outside the Arab market in the Old City in Jerusalem. Made by his wife, said the vendor. A memory that will last a lifetime.

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