Monday, 30 June 2014

Sahlab, World Cup Food Challenge 2014: Algeria



I was delighted when Algeria qualified for the group stages because I've really enjoyed researching the vast range of dishes prominent in their cuisine.  I was tempted to go down the french-inspired repertoire this time but thought that I'd get more out of staying away from my comfort zone, so I've gone with a dish/drink which is hugely popular across the North of Africa and the Middle East called Sahlab.

Sahlab can be served as a drink or a dessert.  It is a sweetened milk which takes its name from the traditional ingredient used to thicken it, sahlab.  Sahlab is the ground root of a variety of Orchid and my research suggests that it lends a distinctive, slightly floral flavour to the end product.  Cornflour is now widely used in place of sahlab due to the endangered nature of the rare Orchid.  Unfortunately, the cornflour will not imbue the mythical aphrodisiacal properties of the true sahlab!

In an attempt to recreate the flavour of this untested ingredient I had planned on adding some rosewater and a small amount of orange zest.  I have no clue if this would suggest the flavours of the authentic sahlab but I do know that both rose and orange are popular flavourings in Algeria so I thought I'd get away with it!  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find rosewater whilst out shopping so this version just had the zest of a clementine to suggest an orange blossom flavour!

Sahlab can be topped with a variety of ingredients which always includes cinnamon; I've also gone with pistachios and coconut to add a different textural note to the sweet milk.

Sahlab

Ingredients

60g Cornflour mixed with 125ml Water
500 ml Milk
125g Sugar
Zest of a Clementine, grated using a microplane
Desiccated Coconut, Pistachios, chopped, and Cinnamon to garnish.

Method

1.  Combine the milk and sugar in a pan and heat, stirring regularly, over a medium heat until simmering, stir in clementine zest.
2.  Whisk in the cornflour mixture and continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth, thickened and bubbling.
3.  Pour into mugs or bowls and top with the coconut and pistachios.  Dust with cinnamon and serve.

This recipe couldn't be easier and it is a really comforting dessert.  It's very reminiscent of a good rice pudding, just without the rice!  It could be such a versatile dish as well; the amount of cornflour can be reduced to serve it as a warming drink, or you could add any other flavours you fancy.  I think i'll try one with cardamom and possibly reduce the sugar content and add some honey.

Just a word of warning, the mixture itself isn't the most aesthetically pleasing dessert you'll ever see!  My wife arrived home and I (enthusiastically) asked her if she wanted to try an Algerian dessert; she took one look at it and declined the offer!  I finally convinced her to have a try and she absolutely loved it so don't be deterred, this really is delicious!

I fear this will be my last Algerian recipe as the mighty Germans are tough competition! However, this certainly won't be my last foray into Algerian cuisine as they've got some cracking recipes!  Hope you enjoy this one.  Cheers,

FoodandFrets

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