Libyan-inspired sahlab for one person
Wednesday, 1 Feb 2017


Over the next few weeks I’ll be cooking and blogging one dish from each of the seven ‘Muslim ban’ countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Syria. I’m fond of food from that region and I cook it fairly regularly, Middle-Eastern food in particular seems to be a trendy thing at the moment in London (I think influenced by Ottolenghi etc).

The first of the foods is actually a drink: a Libyan-inspired sahlab.

The name isn’t familiar to me but I recognised it immediately. Libyan sahlab is made from ground millet, unlike the sahlab or salep popular in other areas that were part of the Ottoman Empire, which is made from ground orchid tubers (aka salep flour).

When I was very little I ate something very similar, a millet porridge made with milk and honey, a sort of Baby’s First Food, a weaning food. I remember it being soothing and tasty and immediately regretted not eating it beyond childhood. My husband however had never had millet at all. Not even when you were very small? I said. No, not even then.

It turns out that in the Western world, millet is used largely as birdseed or livestock feed. It’s commonly used for human consumption in East and South Asia, Africa and the Middle-East (ie. the rest of the world) where it’s an important crop, as it’s drought-tolerant, desert-friendly and has a short growing season. I’ve read that millet is goitrogenic (see here and here), but the reality is that millet isn’t the primary grain for most of us and we get enough iodine in our normal diet anyway, so an occasional millet drink isn’t harmful.

I’ve tweaked the Libyan recipe with my memory of millet porridge by using a mixture of water and almond milk, milk being popular in other salep variations, and honey and sugar. I’ve actually used cinnamon sugar, which I keep a jar of for things like baked doughnuts and french toast (cinnamon sugar recipe, such as it is: dump half a cup sugar and 2 tbsp ground cinnamon in a jar, screw the lid on and shake). I’ve also used - if you’re Libyan I apologise for this horror of inauthenticity - the type of ground millet easily available to me, an actual box of millet porridge for babyfood, and it gets worse. It’s a millet-rice mix.

75% ground millet, 25% ground rice. Added thiamine.

But I made it, and it tastes beautiful. It’s sweet, a little nutty in the way grains are, and it’s not thick. By that I mean it doesn’t feel like a porridge, though it’s kind of puffy-feeling, like a thin liquid marshmallow. My husband called it marshmallow porridge drink. It’ll be good as part of a breakfast (maybe as part of a smoothie? which I must try) or as a nourishing drink on a cold evening.

Original recipe from Libyan Food. Check out their other Libyan recipes.

Other Libyan food blogs to check out:
The Libyan Kitchen, though this hasn’t been updated since 2012
We Are Food and her instagram

I also like Khadija Teri’s blog, where you can also read her journal chronicling her days during the February 17th Revolution.

There isn’t exactly a surfeit of Libyan food and lifestyle blogs on the internet. Let me know if you know of a blog or instagram, or comment below.

Libyan-inspired sahlab for one person

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 tbsp ground millet
  • cinnamon
  • sugar
  • honey

Heat cold water and ground millet on the stove over a low heat.

Heat the almond milk. You can boil it in a saucepan, but I microwaved it on high in a mug.

Stir in 1/2 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp honey. Stir gently on a low heat for about 5 more minutes.

Sprinkle with cinnamon.