How To Make Rose Sahleb
On a recent trip to Israel I discovered a warm dessert beverage that quickly became my favorite during my visit: Sahleb is a creamy drink served during the winter months throughout the Middle East, and it’s an ideal drink if you like the taste of rose and enjoy warming drinks in the winter months. In Israel, you can find this beverage in nearly every cafe or juice stall.
The first time I tried Sahleb, I immediately gravitated towards the light, refreshing flavor of roses. Rose water gives Sahleb a distinct flavor and is part of what made me gravitate towards the drink from the first taste. The base of the Sahleb dessert, which is creamy and fluffy, actually comes from the root of the orchard flower. Traditionally, to make Sahleb, the orchid root is dried and shaved into a powder form. The powder is then mixed with milk for a beverage, or, if thickened, a pudding. This dessert can then be served with pistachios, cinnamon, or coconut, though the toppings vary according to the specific country’s tradition.
Rose water, of course, is a common addition to many celebrated desserts in the Middle East– including ice-cream, cookies, and Turkish Delights. The flavor has become synonymous with the region, which has perfected the art of making rose water (which is made from a process of distilling rose petals into water, so that the water absorbs their flavor and aroma). Rose water has been used as traditional medicine for centuries, and of course, as a perfume. If you opt for a store-bought version of rose water, make sure it is food grade, and made from the real by-product of roses, as many brands today are made artificially.
The Sahleb plant is native to Turkey, where the orchards grow in the wild mountains of the country’s south-east. Given that it takes 1,000 orchards to generate enough plant matter to make about 1 kilogram of Sahleb powder, it is considered a great delicacy. Unfortunately, the orchard’s flowers are quickly becoming extinct. Now a days, Sahleb is often made with cornstarch, which is cheaper and more accessible, as an alternative to the authentic Sahleb powder. In the U.S., Sahleb is not made from the orchid plant, but you can find Sahleb powder or Sahleb mix in a box at a turkish or middle eastern store. Even with the cornstarch substitute, this drink maintains its unique, creamy, and fluffy quality, which is why I cannot recommend it enough for the winter months.
Sahleb is traditionally eaten hot, but can also be enjoyed cold as a pudding called Malabi. Malabi is almost identical to Sahleb but is generally flavored with a raspberry syrup. To try the cold version, simply let the Sahleb cool in the fridge after preparing and it will thicken into a pudding with a more jelly-like consistency.
Sahleb is a great winter dessert and surprisingly easy to make, which is why– even after returning to the States– it’s still one of my favorite desserts.