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Sahlab/Sahlep Ice Cream and New Beginnings

My mother insists on serving white foods for all occasions that symbolize new beginnings. Every birthday, first day of school or New Year's day is marked with something white to eat. “To bless whatever is to come”, she says, and in homage to my mother, I too, would like to start white. This is a series of firsts for me; my first blog, my first blog post, my first attempt at developing an original recipe and the first day of my favourite season: autumn.

Sahlab or sahlep is a white powder used throughout the Middle East and Turkey to make a hot drink that is traditionally served during the winter months and in Ramadan. It is a starch that is extracted from the orchid root and most commonly found in the Persian and Turkish kitchens. Sahlab is known to be one of the most rare and expensive cooking substances, rivalling saffron, so, unfortunately, most of the sahlab that is found today is not really sahlab, but rather corn starch or some other starchy derivative disguised as the precious substance.

I tried sahlab for the first time this Ramadan and I loved it.

This year, Ramadan fell during the month of August, so as I carefully sipped my hot sahlab on a bench next to the street cart from whence it came, I thought, “Why not make this into an ice cream? And save myself the careful sipping?” With that thought, I started experimenting with different proportions of the basic sahlab recipe to figure out the best mix for the perfect, creamy ice cream. My experiment worked, to say the least, and I’m very excited to make my blogging debut by sharing an original recipe that's a twist on an old favorite.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole milk, plus ½ cup
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tsp sahlab powder (or corn starch)
  • 2 Tbsp orange blossom water
  • 2 tsp rose water
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 2 tsp cinnamon powder, to garnish (optional)

Method

Basic sahlab recipe: Place 2 cups milk and sugar in a saucepan and heat on a low flame until all sugar has dissolved, please make sure that the milk does not boil. Stir the sahlab powder into the ½ cup milk until it reaches a thick consistency. Stir the sahlab mixture into the warm milk and whisk until all ingredients have combined. Continue to heat the milk while whisking until it starts to thicken and small bubbles start to form on the side of the saucepan. Add the orange blossom water and rose water and stir well. Continue to heat the milk for an additional 30 seconds.

At this point, you can pour the sahlab into a mug and enjoy it hot with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

For the ice cream: Remove the milk mixture from heat and strain through a fine sieve to discard any residue. Set aside until completely cool. It is best to let the cooled mixture sit in the fridge for 6-8 hours, or overnight. Next, using an electric mixer, whip the whipping cream until soft peaks form. Add the cooled sahlab mixture to the whipped cream and mix until they are well-combined. Place the mixture in an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once set, serve the ice cream with a sprinkle of cinnamon powder. Sahtein.

Summer in Jordan