Sunday, 13 August 2006
I first discovered sahlep in my final year of high school. After a cold day foraging through the second hand clothes at Glebe Markets, we crossed the road to the Badde Manors Café where Emily suggested I try this warm, creamy drink.
I fell in love.
It was also the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Sahlep, a Turkish winter drink, is made from the dried powdered roots of a mountain orchid. The powder is then heated with milk, sugar and cinnamon to make a thick dairy beverage.
In modern day Turkey, sahlep is used to cure sore throats and coughs and is only served during the cold months. Luckily for me the warm weather started late this year so when I visited Istanbul in April I caught the very end of the season!
Ancient recipe. Serves 2.
1 teaspoon sahlep powder
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
1½ cups milk
Cinnamon for dusting
1. Place all ingredients in a saucepan.
2. Boil, whisking continuously, for 2 – 3 minutes.
3. Pour into two cups, dust with cinnamon and enjoy.
The orchids used for sahlep grow in the mountains of southern Turkey (Orchis Latifolia / Orchis Anatolica). Their tubers are pulled from the ground while the plant is flowering and then they are boiled (in water or milk) before being dried and then ground into a powder.
The orchids contain a nutritious starch-like polysaccharide (complex carbohydrate) called bassorin, which accounts for the drink’s thickened consistency.
In Maras, the famous Turkish ice cream Salepi Maraş is a thick sahlep infused concoction. This dessert is boiled, stirred, aerated and churned to produce a chewy substance that doesn’t melt and can even be eaten with a knife and fork.
The name “sahlep” refers to the powder, although it is rather unfortunate that this pretty word is an abbreviation from the Arabic “hasyu al-tha`lab” which translates to “fox testicles”. Apparently the tubers look like fox testicles when they first come from the earth.
It’s not surprising then that sahlep is considered an aphrodisiac and, anecdotally, even the word “orchid” derives from the Greek word for testicle.
Before tea and coffee spread so widely, it is believed that sahlep was the beverage of choice in Europe and the Middle East and variations, known as satyrion and priapiscus were certainly consumed in Ancient Roman times. As Priapiscus was a god of fertility and the satyrs were often thought to be a debauched lot, it is assumed that the Ancient Roman drinks were considered aphrodisiacs too.
In Greece in the 1960s, sahlep caused some controversy for local rock band Aphrodite's Child, who noted on their album record sleeve “this album was recorded under the influence of sahlep”. Many thought it was some kind of illegal drug!
Sahlep is my offering to this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Kalyn at Kalyn’s Kitchen. Be sure to check out the ever-growing list of veggie, herb and plant related recipes from around the world.