Last Christmas season I was in Istanbul for a short visit and while my daughter wanted to visit the beautiful monuments all around us, I only wanted one thing: to get some sahlab AKA salep or sahlep. The monuments could wait.
Sahlab AKA salep or sahlep or sahleb is a powder that is mixed with milk; the powder is extracted from orchids. It is supposed to have curative properties, but what most people love about it is that when made into ice-cream, the ice-cream becomes extraordinarily chewy.
Sahlab is also the name of a drink, made with that powder and milk. It is served in cafés in Beirut and other Eastern Arab cities.
Not only did I find some, which I bought and carried with me to Lebanon and back to the US, but I also drank some at the spice bazaar in Istanbul.
While in Beirut, I found sahleb too. So I had two packages of sahleb in my suitcase.
I made this sahlab into a thick pudding by adding some cornstarch to the milk mixture. You can also buy a box of sahlab mix at the Middle-Eastern store. The mix will not contain the actual orchid powder, just some starch, sugar and flavoring.
These cookies were made to go with the sahlab. The name of these cookies, barazek, is the name of the most famous and popular cookie in Syria and Lebanon.
What are barazek? They are buttery, shortbread-like cookies covered with toasted sesame seeds on one side and studded with chopped pistachios on the other side.
Whenever someone in Beirut makes a short trip to Damascus, bringing a few boxes of these barazek is usually comissionned from the person travelling. Damascus is reputed for making the best barazek in the region.
Well, I am far from Damascus at the moment, and I had some pistachios and sesame seeds in the fridge.
Guess what? We are having tuiles instead.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE TUILES:
- 4 ounces of melted butter
- 1/2 cup of sugar (more if you like the cookies sweeter)
- 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour, sifted when mixed to the batter
- 6 egg whites
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup of toasted sesame seeds
- 1/2 cup of coarsely chopped pistachios
- Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer and beat for two or three minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the flour, egg whites, vanilla and beat till the batter is smooth.
- Add the sesame seeds and pistachios and mixed briefly until combined. Place a piece of parchment or baking paper on a cookie sheet and ladle one spoonful of batter on the paper; spread it out with the back of the spoon and continue until the paper is filled, the cookie should be very thin. It will spread out considerably while baking, so don’t place more than 6 cookies per sheet.
- Bake in a preheated 375F oven for 7 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are browned. Remove, cool for one minute and then either shape the cookies by rolling them over a bottle or a glass or leave them as is, or cut in shards, or triangles.
- Serve when cool; keep in an airtight container 2 or 3 days.
TO MAKE SAHLAB PUDDING:
- 3 cups of milk (or 2 cups of milk and one cup of cream)
- 1/2 cup of sugar (less or more to taste)
- 1 tablespoon of sahlab powder
- 1/4 teaspoon of crushed mastic mixed with a dash of sugar (optional)
- 3 Tablespoons of cornstarch
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Heat the milk with the cinnamon stick. Reserve 1/2 cup of milk to mix with the sahlab powder. Add the sahlab mixture to the milk, add the sugar and mix over medium heat until the milk starts steaming. Add the cornstarch, previously dissolved in 1/4 cup of water and stir continuously.
- Add to the mixture the mastic, previously crushed with a dash of sugar. Stir until the mixture thickens and pour through a sieve into a jug. Spread the mixture between several pudding goblets and let it cool uncovered in the fridge.
NOTE: If you are using the mix, just increase the amount of cornstarch. Use a mixture of milk and cream to make the pudding.