Salep Is An Underrated Ingredient On Carla Hall's Radar - Exclusive

Most avid home cooks seek ingredients from around the world to incorporate into their recipes, and Carla Hall is no different. In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, the chef shared tales from her travels while filming her latest show "Chasing Flavor" for Max. Hall visited several countries in the six-episode series, discovering the multi-layered origin stories behind some of America's favorite dishes.

In the episode that digs deeper into the origins of ice cream, Hall finds herself in Turkey. Turkish ice cream, aka dondurma, gets its uniquely sturdy structure thanks to salep, which gives the dessert a chewy and stretchy texture. Playing on its melt-resistant qualities, ice cream vendors often engage in a comedic performance as they serve the treat, doing sleight-of-hand tricks with customers.

As any food aficionado would be, Hall was immediately curious about the component responsible for these characteristics. "Honestly, one of the ingredients that I am just amazed about because I didn't know it, is salep," she remarked. For the uninitiated, salep comes from wild orchid roots that are dried and ground, and it's often combined with sap resin to make dondurma extra sticky.

Salep's culinary applications

Aside from adding a distinct consistency to dondurma, Hall explained that salep's original use was to make a hot beverage in cooler weather. It continues to be a popular drink in many countries in the Middle East, made by mixing ground powder with hot milk and adding a pinch of cinnamon. Hall made a comparison with a recipe more common in the U.S., noting, "So it's like the boiled custard versus ice cream and I am just fascinated by it."

Of course, such a special ingredient isn't that easy to come by, especially considering not all orchid species produce salep. To that end, she says that she hasn't yet found it in the States. It might not be too long before she can experiment with this gummy ingredient in her kitchen though, if she continues to persevere in her search. About a friend, the chef remarked, "She makes ice cream, and they used to make it for a restaurant, but the restaurant isn't around anymore. I'm still looking." Hall joked, "I hope everyone floods my inbox and social media."

You can catch Carla Hall on "Chasing Flavor" which is available to stream on Max as of February 1.