An Eggnog Alternative: Sahlep

I decided a few weeks ago that it would be much easier for me to create an entirely different Christmas this year than to try and replicate a Christmas at home with my parents and sisters. It’s impossible, and would probably have left me feeling sadder than if I just let it go. Instead, I ate seafood and champagne French-style on Christmas Eve (otherwise known as a réveillon), my Christmas tree is a pointsettia, and I even went to midnight mass. Peaceful, and landed me some practice singing Christmas carols in French.

In that line of thinking, I decided against making eggnog this week and trekked up to the Turkish grocery stores on Epinal’s hilltop for some Sahlep.

In Istanbul men haul carts, topped golden metal pots the size of my torso, around the hilly streets to serve hot sahlep. It’s a milk-based drink, made with sugar, cinnamon, and sahlep powder–dried and ground orchid roots. When the drink is heated and mixed, it’s thick, cozy, and sticks to the inside of your stomach on a cold night. Probably sticks to your waistline too, but who cares? The flavor is lighter than eggnog, and you can also easily make it with skim milk if you’d rather not feel weighed down.

Sahlep also seems extra special to me because you can’t replicate it from scratch at home. If you have a local Middle Eastern or Turkish goods store, like Elias for those in the Lehigh Valley, you can easily find the powder. If not, you can find it online under the name sahlep, salep, or sahlab. I’m personally a fan of online ethnic-food sites, so I’d recommend a Turkish site like Best Turkish Food or Yiyelem. Throw some pistachio halva in the cart, too.

And if you’re looking to add the alcohlic kick to Sahlep that you enjoy in eggnog, I would suggest brandy. Let me know how it goes, and Merry Christmas!

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