Sabzi Polo Mahi (Herbed Rice and Fish) for the Persian New Year

by Karen on Monday, March 21, 2011

Post image for Sabzi Polo Mahi (Herbed Rice and Fish) for the Persian New Year

Another season is upon us and with it a new year. Nowruz (Persian New Year) marks the first day in the Iranian calendar and the start of spring. Quite appropriately, the celebration of this holiday is filled with symbols of renewal and life. Sabzi polo mahi, a dish traditionally eaten on this day, is infused with all sorts of fresh green herbs, capturing the spirit of this occasion and the season.

And it's about time I made more Persian food. Once upon a blog post, I waxed poetic about my love for polo (Persian rice dishes) only to make a cold yogurt soup. I justified holding off making a polo dish because of the difficulty, but the truth is I've made it before and wanted to perfect it before displaying it for the world to see (the whole world is reading this, right?). Despite how this sounds, my reluctance wasn't because of pride, but more because I wanted to do it justice: make it as perfect as it was intended to be. Persian rice dishes are visually so colorful and impeccable, as if each grain of rice was individually crafted, that you almost can't imagine eating such a work of art.  Well, almost.

This attempt at sabzi polo is far from perfect, but with each try I'm getting closer.  Sabzi polo mahi can be served with any white fish, a simple preparation of seasoning with salt and pepper and pan seared would do just fine here.  I used smoked white fish (around this time of year you can find whole ones at any Persian market) because I love smoked fish.  To serve the smoked fish all you do is wrap it in foil and place it on a baking sheet.  Bake it at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes until it is hot.

I used a recipe (with a few adaptations) from a wonderful Persian food blog, Turmeric and Saffron.

– 3 cups of basmati rice
– 1 cup of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
– 1 cup of cilantro, finely chopped
– 2 cup of dill, finely chopped
– 1 cup of green onions (green stems), finely chopped
– 1 teaspoon of powdered saffron
– salt
– vegetable oil
– smoked white fish

*I used a food processor to chop my herbs.  Just rinse and dry them and pulse each of them individually, then combine.  I actually would use more herbs the next time I make this (and I've adjusted the recipe).  Although it seems like a lot, it isn't.

Rinse the basmati rice gently in cold water until the water starts to run clear.  Soak the rice in a large bowl of salted water so it covers the rice by a couple inches.  Let it soak for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Combine all the chopped herbs together.  Boil 7 cups of water in a large pot.  Drain the water from of your soaking rice and pour the rice into the boiling water.  Let the water return to a boil and boil for about 8-10 minutes, so the rice is still a little hard in the middle.  Pour the water through a fine mesh strainer and rinse with cold running water.  Rinse out your large pot and dry.

Return the pot to the stove and heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium- high heat.  Being careful with the rice (generally be careful as basmati is delicate), spoon the rice in one even layer and then sprinkle an even layer of herbs over the rice.  Repeat layering rice and herbs until they are all used up ending with a layer of rice.  Pour about a cup of water around the edge of the pot and turn the heat down low.  Cover the pot with a couple layers of paper towels and cover with a tightly fitted lid.  Let the rice steam for about 40 minutes.

Pour about 3 tablespoons of boiling water over the powdered saffron in a small cup and pour around on top of the rice.  Transfer to a serving platter and don't throw away the bottom toasted rice called tah-dig— that's the best part!

Serve with some plain yogurt or mast-o-musir (shallot yogurt).  To make this, simply combine a finely diced large shallot with two cups of plain whole-fat yogurt and a hefty pinch of salt.  Happy Nowruz!



Deana March 21, 2011 at 9:05 am

This looks beautiful it must have been so delicious! Spring is my favorite time of year and this dish is a great way to celebrate it!!

Karen March 22, 2011 at 10:02 am

Thanks Deana– wish u could’ve joined!

Sasha (Global Table Adventure) March 21, 2011 at 9:16 am

The crusty bits *are* the best, for sure 🙂 Most recipes Ive seen have you crumble them on top of the rice, like a garnish. I’d eat them plain, though …

Rice making can be such art. Happy Nowruz to you, too.

deana@lostpastremembered March 21, 2011 at 11:00 am

Your rice has that perfect crust.. I am so jealous!!! I get it about half the time when I make the persian cherry rice I love so much. Must try this rice… looks amazing! Look forward to all your Persian recipes!

Karen March 22, 2011 at 10:02 am

O that sounds amazing– I actually haven’t had the cherry rice yet, but I can only imagine. Thanks!

Orly @yumivore March 21, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Love celebrating and learning about other cultures through food! Amazing how the fish seems to be a cross-cultural New Year’s dish. Beautiful shots!

Karen March 22, 2011 at 10:04 am

I never thought of that, but very true– good observation 🙂

Valerie March 22, 2011 at 9:24 am

Gosh, it looks amazing, Karen, and I know how hard Persian rice is… look at your tahdig!!! This would make Noushi proud!

gelareh March 22, 2011 at 9:26 am

yummy! i’ve been having this dish for about two weeks now, my mom gets overzealous when noruz is in the horizon. (i’m about to have sabzi polo and salmon for lunch with some kookoo) your dish looks de-lish!!! i’m so excited that you ventured into persian food making again, i’m comforted to know that someone will hold the secrets to the art of persian cooking who is near and dear to my heart!

sidenote…adding the cup of water around the edges when you’re steaming the rice is something i’ve never done (i.e. never seen my mom do…lol) where’d u read about that? is that a specific thing you do with sabzi polo?

ok…comment is long enough…great job!

and Aideh Noruz-etoon Mobarak!

Karen March 22, 2011 at 10:06 am

Aww thanks 🙂 the water around the edges was a tip from Turmeric and Saffron, the blog I adapted this recipe from. Happy New Year!

Lana March 22, 2011 at 10:33 am

I am always the lucky recipient of the crusty rice pieces from the bottom (until the girls discover their wonderful crunchiness and taste:)
Your polo looks great and I applaud you for your efforts:) I have never tried to make it, but it seems like a worthy challenge.
And the photos of the whole fish make me crave it really badly:)
BTW, I started reading the blogs that you recommended and they are kerping me awake at night:) Thanks!

Belinda @zomppa March 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm

This looks so amazing! Love the saffron here – and that bottom of the dish rice is perfect. Happy New Year!

Azita March 22, 2011 at 5:57 pm

This is one of the most beautiful sabzi polow mahi presentations I’ve ever seen! Excellent! Thanks so much for the mention and the link.
Happy Nowruz! Happy Spring!

Karen March 27, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Thanks Azita– it was a great recipe– Happy New Year!

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen March 23, 2011 at 3:34 am

I’ve always loved the tah-dig, it’s the best! I also like when it’s made with thinly sliced potatoes at the bottom of the rice.

Karen March 27, 2011 at 4:54 pm

O sliced potatoes– I’ve never had it like that but it sounds incredible!

Golnar March 23, 2011 at 10:01 pm

This looks so good! Even tho I’ve eaten this meal for like, a week straight I still want more. Yum!

elle marie March 26, 2011 at 12:28 am

This is freak’n fabulous.. what type of cooking platter did you use? I live in Japan so I eat mostluy the short grain rice, but my fav it basamati or long grain…

Karen March 27, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Thanks! The platters I used were from stores in the States

Lentil Breakdown March 31, 2011 at 4:19 pm

I adore smoked whitefish. It’s a very Jewish thing that we ate on special occasions when I was growing up. Didn’t know it was part of Persian cuisine.

Lentil Breakdown March 31, 2011 at 4:19 pm

I adore smoked whitefish. It’s a very Jewish thing that we ate on special occasions when I was growing up. Didn’t know it was part of Persian cuisine.

Nadia April 1, 2011 at 11:10 am

your photos are amazing-I love the style of them, simple yet gorgeous. you don’t need a ton of props and twine and all to have beautiful photos.

this dish looks so delicious. I’m a big rice eater myself and love Persian rice dishes.

Karen April 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm

O thank you Nadia– so kind of you 🙂 Yes, the rice dishes are incredible!

tasteofbeirut April 2, 2011 at 10:28 pm

I love anything Persian, especially in the realm of cuisine; I had Persian friends in LA who introduced me to Nowruz and all the wonderful rice dishes and have learned to make a few of them; this fish dish is fantastic .

hanneke December 16, 2011 at 10:34 am

Dear Karen,

First off I’d like to say this looks like a very yummy website that I’ll have to come back to. I stumbled upon it while looking for pictures of Sabzi polo. I’m from Belgium and I write a one-page culinary article in a local magazine. Basically, I talk to someone from the neighbourhood, usually foreign, about their favourite recipe. In the article, there’s a short description of the recipe as they prepare it and an anecdote to go along with it.

So now I was looking for a picture to illustrate the dish Farideh, the Iranian woman I interviewed, chose and came across yours (the one at the top of this page). My question is if you’d be willing to give me permission to use it. I’d be very grateful and would obviously state your name. I can’t pay you, as I do this job on a voluntary basis myself but I could send you a copy of the magazine when it’s published, should you be interested.

You can contact me on the e-mail address I entered above. I’m very much looking forward to that!


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