Middle Eastern Sahlep Drink

Libations | February 18, 2016 | By

We’ve finally had some snowy days here in Toronto.  I like it!  There’s something so soothing about watching snowflakes making their way earthbound.  And then when the sun shines afterwards, everything is so crystal clear and ethereal.  And cold, snowy days deserve ‘warm your insides’ treats, like hot cocoa.  Any treat that just smiles at you and whispers ‘comfort food’ is worth having around.  Often.  So it is with this drink.  It isn’t cocoa.  It’s Sahlep or Sahlav.  I discovered it on Instagram.  A chef that I follow was spending time in Israel, and was documenting her gourmet feasting at the various restaurants and hotels she was visiting.  One morning she showed us a photo of a drink that she was having for breakfast. It looked so dreamy, so enticing.

This is no ordinary drink.  It is creamy, just sweet enough, thick, almost like drinking a thinned out tapioca pudding (without the texture).  Don’t be put off by my meager attempt to quantify this.  It sounded joyous by her description.  And she graciously included a recipe for the rest of us to try.  You guys must be figuring me out by now, I’ll try anything once.  And then go back again and again if it’s worth it.  Well, this is worth it.

I did some extra homework for you all: Salep, Sahlav or Saloop is a popular wintertime drink in Turkey, Lebanon, Israel etc.  Originally it is made using the powdered starch of the root of a certain species of orchid, combined with milk, orange blossom or rose water, cinnamon and pistachios etc. These days it is harder to obtain this powder outside of Turkey etc (it is very expensive and there are restrictions due to over harvesting of the orchid), so substitutions are used.  Some use cornstarch, or glutinous rice flour.  I used arrowroot starch/flour.  

I was so intrigued by the ingredients: vanilla paste, rose water or orange blossom water, shredded coconut, pistachios, cinnamon. Everything I would love in a pudding I was now going to try drinking!  And that’s really what it is like, a thinned out pudding.  But it comes with the most wonderful perfume.  You’re welcome.   Enjoy it before winter disappears.  Yeah, right, I think we have a few more cold days in our forecast.

I’m including how I prepared it this morning: using almond milk and coconut palm sugar instead of the typical whole cow’s milk and granulated sugar.  It tastes just as good.  You may want to try it the traditional way first, just so that you’ll have a benchmark. But for those who can’t have dairy, I tried it this way, and it tastes great!

Turkish Sahlep
Serves 1
A thick, perfumed milk drink, a gift to us from Turkey! A cold weather treat, I wouldn't mind this year round!
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
  1. 1 1/2 cups whole milk (you can use almond milk as a substitute)
  2. 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp sugar (you can use coconut palm sugar but you may need to add a touch more)
  3. 1/2 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla paste
  4. 2 tbsp arrowroot starch/flour disolved in 1 1/2 tbsp water
  5. 1 tsp rose water or orange blossom water
  6. 1 tbsp shredded coconut
  7. 1 tbsp toasted chopped pistachios (or you can use peanuts, crushed)
  8. 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  1. Heat the milk, sugar, vanilla in a pot on the stove at medium high heat. When it comes to a boil, reduce to a medium heat.
  2. Add the starch mixture. Keep whisking while you bring the liquid back up to a boil.
  3. The mixture should thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  4. After letting it bubble for a minute, turn off the heat and add the rose water.
  5. Pour it into a glass.
  6. Garnish with the shredded coconut, nuts and cinnamon. Serve hot.
  1. I state only shredded coconut. I don't need it sweetened. Maybe you do. You decide. I don't think it needs it. But for it to be a treat for you, maybe you will!
Adapted from Chef Chaya on Instagram!
Adapted from Chef Chaya on Instagram!
The Lemon Apron http://www.thelemonapron.com/


  1. Leave a Reply

    February 26, 2016

    Oh WOW!! I grew up in Turkey drinking sahlep. Winters in our house meant sahlep after dinner. What a great substitution you created. I love your version and it looks so SO beautiful.

    • Leave a Reply

      March 5, 2016

      Oh thank you so much Aysegul. That means so much to me, knowing that you had it growing up. If mine even comes close, I’ll be very happy. Enjoy

  2. Leave a Reply

    February 18, 2016

    I have never heard of this, but it sounds heavenly! It’s not as cold here as in Toronto, but I might be putting some rosewater, arrowroot and pistachios in my shopping basket tomorrow!

    • Leave a Reply

      February 19, 2016

      Interesting, considering that it hails from closer to your neck of the woods more than mine! It really is remarkably yummy. Let me know what you think when you try it Erica. Hope you’re settling into your new temporary world. Enjoy!

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