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  • Turkish Radio Hour
    x0x WARM WINTER S DRINK By Nilgun Tekfidan With the coming of cold winter days, Turkey s cake and pudding shops begin serving salep in place of ice cream. On
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 10, 2002
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      By Nilgun Tekfidan

      With the coming of cold winter days, Turkey's cake and pudding shops
      begin serving salep in place of ice cream. On the ferryboats which ply
      their way between the European and Asian shores of Istanbul with smoke
      trailing from their funnels and chased by flocks of seagulls, many of
      the passengers order steaming cups of this delicious warming beverage.

      Salep is made from the powdered root of several species of wild
      orchid, and is both tasty and nourishing. It keeps the body warm in
      cold weather and increases resistance against the colds and coughs of

      The Turks have been drinking salep for many centuries. After they
      became converted in the 8th century to Islam, a religion which
      prohibited the consumption of alcoholic drinks like wine and kimiz
      (made from mare's milk), non-alcoholic beverages like boza (made from
      maize), sira (grape juice) and salep took their place. While sira was
      the preferred drink of the summer months, boza and hot salep were the
      drinks of winter.

      Also known as cayirotu or cemcicegi, salep is believed to be good for
      disorders of the intestines, colds and coughs; improve the appetite
      and increase virility. Ancient folklore relates that it was an
      ingredient of love potions brewed by witches.

      In Ottoman times salep was an ingredient of invigorating pastes
      prepared for the sultans, along with ginger, coriander, senna, black
      cumin seeds, coconut, aniseed and numerous other herbs and spices. In
      winter salep prepared as a drink with milk was sold by street vendors,
      who kept it warm in large copper jugs on a brazier. Their customers
      would warm themselves by the brazier and drink salep out of large cups
      without handles. A traditional drink of the Middle East, salep was
      introduced to Europe, and became popular, particularly in England,
      where it was sold in salep shops, and served with bread and butter.

      Gradually, however, as coffee drinking became widespread, its use in
      Europe died out.

      The largest tubers are gathered from orchids growing in forested
      mountainous regions, while those growing in meadows and high pastures
      are smaller. They grow best in soil with a high lime content, and
      those with the finest aroma and richest in starch are found at
      altitudes of 1000 to 1100 metres. In Anatolia most orchid species
      belong to the genera Orchis and Ophrys. Wild orchids are most abundant
      in the provinces of Kahramanmaras, Adiyaman, Bitlis, and the Black Sea
      provinces, particularly Kastamonu. They flower in April and May, and
      then seed. Some of the flowers are scentless, while others produce a
      sweet scent that is strongest in the evening, and their colours vary
      from white to various tones of purple.

      The orchid tubers are gathered while the plant is in flower. Each
      orchid has two tubers, one the main tuber from which the flower
      springs, and the other its younger offshoot. Only the young tuber is
      harvested, leaving the main tuber untouched.

      The cream-coloured tubers are either egg-shaped or forked. They are
      washed and then tossed into boiling milk or water for a short while to
      remove the bitter flavour and make them easier to dry. They are then
      dried either in the openair or in ovens to speed up the process. After
      drying they may be stored whole or ground. The principal substances
      contained in salep vary according to the time of harvesting, but
      basically consist of mucilage, starch, sugar and nitrates. The colour
      is generally creamy.Salep is the traditional thickening ingredient in
      Turkish ice cream, and the substance that lends the characteristic
      glutinous texture as well as subtle flavour. It is also used mixed
      with sugar and milk to make the hot drink known as salep, which is
      served sprinkled with cinnamon. Salep is the most popular hot drink at
      ski resorts like Uludag and Kartalkaya, and is sold by street vendors
      outside football stadiums. When Ramazan falls in winter, as it does
      this year, salep even appears on the dinner menus of elegant
      restaurants and luxury hotels.

      Salep is expensive, so what is sold as salep may often be made with
      more cornstarch than the real thing. Therefore, if you do not want to
      be disappointed, it is better not to drink salep sold in the street.

      Places to be recommended include the pudding shops of Beyoglu and
      along the Bosphorus which are famous for their salep. Even better make
      it yourself at home, which will save you from going out in cold
      weather. Salep is simple to prepare. You can buy salep powder from the
      Misir Carsisi (Egyptian Market) in Istanbul, or from other spice
      shops, and it will keep in a glass jar indefinitely. Just boil up with
      milk and sugar for a delicious health giving cup of salep.

      * Nilgun Tekfidan is a journalist
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