Sahlib is a wonderful winter drink that is made of the tubers of an orchard, mixed with hot milk and sugar. When living in Cairo I loved this drink during the cold months – it is nourishing as well as delicious.
Salep came from Oxfordshire, but the tubers were chiefly imported from the East.
Charles Lamb refers to a ‘Salopian shop’ in Fleet Street, and says that to many tastes it has ‘a delicacy beyond the China luxury,’ and adds that a basin of it at three-halfpence, accompanied by a slice of bread-and-butter at a halfpenny, is an ideal breakfast for a chimney-sweep. Though Salep is no longer a popular London beverage, before the war it was regularly sold by street merchants in Constantinople as a hot drink during the winter
The Salep of commerce is prepared chiefly in the Levant, being largely collected in Asia Minor, but to some extent also in Germany and other parts of Europe. The European Salep is always smaller than the Oriental Salep. The drug found in English trade is mostly imported from Smyrna. That sold in Germany is partly obtained from plants growing wild in the Taunus Mountains, the Odenwald and other districts. Salep is also collected in Greece and used in that country and in Turkey in the form of a decoction, which is sweetened with honey and taken as an early morning drink. The Salep of India is mostly produced on the hills of Afghanistan, Beluchistan, Kabul and Bokhara, and also from the Nilgiri Hills and Ceylon.
The drug was known to Dioscorides and the Arabians, as well as to the herbalists and physicians of the Middle Ages, by whom it was mostly prescribed in the fresh state. Gerard (1636 edition) gives excellent figures of the various orchids, whose tubers, he says, ‘our age useth.’ Geoffrey (1740), having recognized the salep imported from the Levant to be the tubers of an Orchis, pointed out how it might be prepared from the species indigenous to France.
Levant Salep, as occurring in commerce, consists of tubers 1/2 inch to 1 inch in length, oblong in form, often pointed at the lower end and rounded at the upper, where is a depressed scar left by the stem; palmate tubers are infrequent. They are generally shrunken and contorted, covered with a roughly granular skin, pale brown, translucent, very hard and horny, practically inodorous and with an insipid, mucilaginous taste. After maceration in water for several hours the tubers regain their original form and size.
- 4 teaspoons Sahlab (salep) powder
- 2 glasses milk
- Sugar to taste
- Add the salep and sugar to some cold milk and mix well.
- Bring the rest of the milk to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low, then add the salep/milk mixture.
- Wait until the mixture thickens.
- You can garnish by adding shredded coconuts, crushed nuts, or a pinch of cinnamon.
- Serve hot.
If you can find it in specialty shops, do give it a try! Great for the winter months.