Middle Eastern

The Creamy, Warming Custard That Brings Me Back to Jerusalem

by:
January 27, 2017

I first sampled sachlav, the exquisite, drinkable confection of the Middle East, during a trip to Israel to visit relatives, most of whom live near modern, bustling Tel Aviv.

But before joining them, I traveled with a friend to Jerusalem. My husband stayed behind to care for the girls and It was my first trip without children in tow—just me and and a friend. I looked forward to the pleasures of girlfriend spontaneity: laughing, talking, huge breakfasts, shopping, and long, quiet walks through the Old City, with its inspiring sights.

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Near our hotel stood a café with the usual menu items: soup, salad, pasta. Following the main course, an intriguing offering caught my eye. Encouraged by my travel companion, I ordered the sachlav. It was served warm like hot chocolate, but was thicker and creamier, yet somehow more delicate. You needed a spoon to scoop up the last bits. It seemed to be the antidote for the chill of an early spring evening, and I loved the exotic flavor and gentle sweetness.

Traditionally, sachlav is flavored with orange flower or rose water. A scattering of chopped pistachios and dried fruit adds texture, and the top may be dusted with cinnamon and finished with coconut (unnecessary, in my view).

Once home to New York, I knew I could recreate sachlav for my family. In keeping with the delicate floral flavors of the original, I used jasmine green tea. I added white chocolate, though not traditional, for a rich creaminess (and to nod to sachlav’s Western equivalent, hot chocolate). And where Israelis would sprinkle on golden raisins, I chose dried sour cherries, with their hint of almond. Candied orange peel replaced orange flower water in my version, but I kept the pistachios for their color and crunch.

Whenever I prepare this treat, it brings back memories of that special journey to Jerusalem, a city paved in ancient stones that feel alive with history and heritage; of buildings lit by the glow of street lamps; of uneven cobblestones worn to a soft sheen by the tread of a thousand footsteps.

One sip brings back the sense of shalem—completeness—afforded by that comforting meal in the company of an old friend.

Is there a dish you've picked up on your travels that you've recreated at home? Tell us in the comments below.

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