Israeli Food: Sachlav

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Sachlav (otherwise known as salep, sahlab, and saloop) is not quite food-not quite beverage, and is one of the many unique dishes Israel has to offer.  Take a stroll through any of the outdoor markets in Israel, such as Machaneh Yehuda in Jerusalem, or Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv and it will be difficult to miss the large, adorned urns filled with steaming hot sachlav. This porridge/custard like ‘beverage’ is typically accompanied with coconut shreds, chopped pistachios and raisins. That’s not to say that you won’t find other interesting additions to the drink such as fresh bananas and caramel.

Sachlab, a unique flavor of Israel. Via avlxyz, on Flicr
Sachlab, a unique flavor of Israel. Via avlxyz, on Flicr

Its signature flavor, and what gives it its overpowering fragrance is the dried and ground up bulbs of the sahlab orchid (so the name of the orchid and the drink are one in the same). Mixed with hot milk, orange blossom water, cinnamon and vanilla – and sachlav is born. Cheaper versions of the drink use corn starch instead of sachlav powder.

The actual beverage originated in Turkey and the Middle East, and then went on to England and Germany, prior to the popularity of tea and coffee. Each country has minor differences in their sachlav beverages, while the ground up orchid has also been used in ice creams and desserts. Interestingly enough, this orchid has been commonly used in herbal medicine and has been found to restore the body after disease by stimulating its activity. It particularly has been shown to have a curative effect on the common cold and cough, hence is popular during the winter months.

Where to Drink Sachlav

For the experience, which also happens to be a lot cheaper, check out Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem. In the open air shuk, there is a sachlav stand where the vendor yells out a continuous stream of seductive lines to lure you in to buying a cup of sachlav. Warning: you may find it difficult to do this on a Friday afternoon.

For a different experience, and certainly a lot more peaceful, try out the bookstore-café ‘Tmol Shilshom’. In a little alleyway, near the centre of town, this cafe in Jerusalem is a sanctuary amongst the hustle and bustle. You can order a steaming mug of sachlav, sit back and read on of the many books the café has to offer.

However, if you do want to impress your friends and family – you could always purchase the powdered sachlav mix and make your own version at home…

Sachlav Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Sahlab powder or 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons rose or orange-blossom water (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachios
  • Ground cinnamon

Preparation:

Mix the Sahlab powder or cornstarch with a few tablespoons of milk.

Bring the remaining milk to a boil. Pour in the starch mixture, stirring vigorously, so that lumps do not form.

Cook over very low heat, stirring continuously, until the milk thickens (about 10 minutes). Then stir in the sugar and the rose water or orange blossom water, if you so desire.

Serve in cups with the chopped pistachios and cinnamon as garnish. You may also sprinkle grated coconut on top.

Chavi Kramer is a dietitian from Australia. She loves cooking, eating, traveling and music. You will often find her ambling along the quaint and unexplored streets in Jerusalem where she currently resides. 
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