Since it is winter here in the lovely Kingdom of Lochac, warm comforting drinks are much needed. The drink sahlab or salep was used throughout the Greek & Roman world, then picked up by Muslim scholars later. It is made of the powdered root of the orchid Orchis mascula or Early Purple Orchid. It was mentioned by Maimonides to “revive the spirits and sexual desire”. Some recipes have rose water, orange blossom, cinnamon, coconut or pistachios in it, depending on the region where it is made. Before the rise of tea and coffee as daily drinks, the drink known as saloop or Turkish Delight (before describing lokum) was popular in Europe. Due to the popularity of the drink today, the orchid is threatened, leading to bans on export from Turkey. The packets that are available in some shops are mostly corn flour.

Let me know if you have tried Sahlab!
Recommended reading
Sahlib, another wonderful winter drink on Dianabuja’s Blog.
Sachlav: The Hot Chocolate of the Middle East by Devra Ferst. On The Jew and the Carrot.
RECIPE: Sahlab, Creamy Hot Drink From the Middle East by Miriam Kresh.
Practical Materia Medica of the Medieval Eastern Mediterranean According to the Cairo Geniza by Efraim Lev and Zohar Amar. Viz Google Books.
Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks. Via Google Books.


The al-Baghdadi cookbook was written in the 13th century, by Muḥammad bin al-Ḥasan bin Muḥammad bin al-Karīm al-Baghdadi.

As filo pastry was invented in the 17th century, very thin bread or even crepes were used in layers with sugar (or honey) with nuts and spices. It was replaced with filo in the 17th century where baklava grew to such popularity that there was even the “Baklava Parade” a gift from the Topkapi Palace to their Janissary guards.

I used David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook’s work on the Internet, known as Cariadoc’s Miscellany as a base to work from. The recipe can be found here. However, there are some differences which is easy to explain.

Take fine white flour, and with every ratl mix three uqiya of sesame-oil, kneading into a firm paste. Leave to rise; then make into long loaves. Put into the middle of each loaf a suitable quantity of ground almonds and scented sugar mixed with rose water, using half as much almonds as sugar. Press together as usual, bake in the oven, remove.

Cariadoc’s recipe is 2 c white +1 c whole wheat flour, 1/2 c sesame oil (from untoasted sesame!!!), 6 oz almonds (1 c before chopping), 12 oz (1& 1/2 c) sugar, 1 T rose water, 3/4 to 7/8 c cold water or 1/2 c water, 1/2 c sour-dough starter and additional flour for rolling out dough. I used 2 cups sour-dough bread mix, 1 cup plain white flour, 1/2 cup sesame oil, a full cup of warm water, 1& 1/2 teaspoons dried yeast and 1 tablespoon raw sugar. I then cheated by putting all this in my bread maker and turning on the pizza dough setting. I made two batches of this dough. I then covered them & placed them in the fridge overnight. This is known as retarding the bread dough.

I also made two different types of filling. One was almond, the other pistachio. The almond mix had 1 cup almond flour with some course almonds mixed in, 1 tablespoon rose water, 1 cup raw caster sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cardamom. The pistachio mix was one cup pistachios coarsely pulverised, 1 cup raw caster sugar, 1 tablespoon orange blossom water and 1/2 teaspoon cardamom. I used raw sugar as that is the sugar I usually bake with. While there was no mention of spices in the original recipe, I chose to put in cardamom for two reasons. No-one knows what “scented sugar” was, as rose water was mentioned separately in the recipe and cardamom was thought to aid digestion.


The bowl on the left is the almond mix. The one in the middle is the pistachio mix and the one on the right is dough waiting to be kneaded.

I thought that I would try to make the almond mix by layering it like baklava, or like the popular Armenian bread dish.

Here is one of the doughs spilt into four to be rolled out and made into layers.

Baking in the oven.

The almond cooked at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes. I did find that it was still a little raw in the middle so these pieces were cooked again.

The cooked almond pieces. I found the sugar caramelised nicely.

I did the pistachio mix according to the recipe, into little loaves.

Cooling down.

I took both to the Krae Glas Ottoman Twilight Tourney where both types were finished off. I found the pistachio rolls were very bread-y when I cut them up. I got the impression that many preferred the almond, as a more subtle flavour but the pistachio was also liked. Everyone who tried it is welcome to leave a comment!

Recommended reading on Baklava
Baklava on the Turkish Cultural Foundation.
Baklava on the New World Encyclopaedia.
Repast: Quarterly Publication of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor: Vol XXIV, #4, Fall 2008. Via Google Docs.
Baklava– Stefan’s Florilegium.


Picture from Wikimedia Commons. The drink sharbat was thought to be a medicine, as well as a drink. They were fruit drinks made with a sugar syrup, seasoned with spices such as roses, sandalwood, aloe wood and hibiscus.The drink originated in Persia, first mentioned in the Persian book Zakhireye Khwarazmshahi, a 12th century 10 volume medical encyclopaedia. It spread over the Middle East, but especially to India and was popular during the Mughal Empire.
Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia by Josef W. Meri. Via Google Books.
The World’s First Soft Drink by Juliette Rossant. Recipes at the bottom of the article. From Saudi Aramco World.
Science and poetry in medieval Persia: the botany of Nizami’s Khamsa by Christine van Ruymbeke. Via Google Books.
Physicians as Professionals in Medieval India edited by Deepak Kumar. Via the Internet Archive. Text file.
An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook by David Friedman. This is an extra section on medicinal drinks.
Food as Medicine in Muslim Civilization by Nil Sari. From


Rosewater is created when rose petals are distilled to make rose oil. Essentially it is the by-product! It was first mass produced by the Persians and was mentioned in the works of Abū ‘Alī al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Sīnā who is known in the West as Avicenna.

The Damask Rose

It was made from the Rosa damascena, or the Damascus or Damask rose. The rose was thought to have been spread to Europe from the Crusaders, and had reached England by Henry VIII’s reign. This website tells you how to make rosewater at home. The rosewater can be used in food (quite extensively in all the cuisines over the Middle East) and as a skin toner, as it is very mild on the skin as well as an astringent.

Fair warning though- a 13th century Al-Andalus cookbook does say that if you use too much rosewater, your hair will go white!

Saudi Aramco-cooking with the Caliphs.
Saudi Aramco-The World’s first soft drink.
Saudi Aramco– the roses of Taif.
Fragrantica– the Taif rose.
Herbalism, Medieval, Magical and Modern by Jadwiga Zajaczkowa/Jenne Heise.
The Toilet and Cosmetic Arts in Ancient and Modern Times by Arnold James Cooley. This is via Google Books, so is only a preview.