Even though we’re nearing the beginning of spring, it’s been cold and snowy on the East Coast. Cold weather reminds me of one of my favorite dessert drinks, sahlab. If you’ve ever been to the Middle East during the colder months, you’ve probably had this delicious treat as it’s sold in restaurants, coffee shops and street vendors. When I was home visiting my family this past fall, sahlab made its first seasonal appearance.
Sahlab (saH-lab) is a fragrant, creamy, pudding-like drink. It originated in Turkey and was introduced to the Middle East and parts of Europe during the Ottoman empire. Traditionally, the main components for sahlab are dairy milk, sugar and salep, which is ground dried orchid tubers. Salep is used as the main thickening agent for this drink and is mostly found in Turkey. Due to its rarity, people have substituted salep with cornstarch. The consistency of sahlab and its toppings vary by country. Some regions like it cool, thick and pudding-like while others like it warm and thin. Cinnamon, crushed nuts, coconut flakes and dried fruit are some of the preferred topping options.
Most grocery stores in the Middle East sell packs of instant sahlab. When I was visiting my family, my brother brought home a pack. I got excited because it had been years since I last had some. Even though the list of ingredients was ridiculously long and I knew it would probably make me feel sick, I made myself a cup anyway. It wasn’t worth it because I immediately felt sick afterwards. I was talking to my uncle, who’s a chef, about my instant sahlab experience, he laughed and gave me his simple recipe. He had given it to me a couple years before in hopes of creating a Paleo version but I never got around to it and, I honestly, was just too hesitant to try.
There’s a coffee shop in my family’s town that sells the best sahlab. The line is usually out the door as it’s loved by locals and tourists alike. My non-Middle Eastern husband and sister-in-law love their sahlab and could eat it everyday. I was telling my sis that I would love to create a Paleo sahlab recipe that was sugar, dairy and grain-free but still tasted delicious. We thought of ways we could substitute the ingredients to still have it be authentic. Easier said than done, it was time for some trial and error.
While sitting around the fireplace with my family on a cold November evening, my dad asked me to make some heartwarming desserts. I made some of his childhood favorites and then decided to give Paleo sahlab a try. My family loved it so much and couldn’t tell that it was dairy and sugar free. Over the next week or so, I made a few more batches for my taste testers so I can make sure I had the perfect recipe. My sahlab-loving husband and sis gave me their thumbs up so I’m here sharing my Paleo sahlab recipe with you all.
My Paleo sahlab is made with nut milk, sweetened with honey, and thickened with arrowroot starch. I’m proud to have created this sahlab recipe that is not only Paleo but also Vegan friendly and tastes authentic and delicious. So next time you want to treat yourself on a cold evening, try making yourself some of my Paleo sahlab.
- 3 tablespoons of arrowroot starch
- 1 can of unsweetened full fat coconut milk
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 1/2 teaspoon rosewater
- 2 tablespoons *honey
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed mastic gum
- Ground cinnamon, crushed pistachios, coconut flakes
- In a cup, mix together the arrowroot starch and cold water.
- Place coconut milk, honey, mastic and arrowroot mixture into a medium sized saucepan.
- Simmer on medium to low heat. Constantly stirring with a whisk.
- Add rosewater.
- Keep stirring until thicker.
- Bring to a slight boil.
- Remove from heat and place in cups.
- Top with a sprinkle of cinnamon, crushed pistachios and coconut flakes.
- Enjoy right away or chill in the fridge overnight for more of a pudding consistency.
Arabic word for honey: ‘asal