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Author Notes: This herby pilaf ("Sabzi Polo" in Persian) is served with fish on the first day of spring and the beginning of the new Persian year. In Iran, many families serve this dish for Norooz, and the tradition is also celebrated in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, and other countries of the region.
Note: The quantity of fresh herbs mentioned is for untrimmed herbs. If you get fresh, trimmed and cut herbs, you should use halve that amount. The ratio for the herbs is 30% parsley, 30% dill, 30% fresh coriander (cilantro), and 10% fenugreek. You can find Persian dried mix herbs for Sabzi Polo in international shops or online, which is the easiest choice. Just remember to soak the herbs 3 or 4 hours before cooking and to drain them completely. —Saghar Setareh
Serves 3 to 4
For the pilaf:
- 500 grams high-quality basmati rice
- 70 grams salt
- 750 grams to 1 kilogram (1 1/2 to 2 pounds) fresh, untrimmed herbs OR
- 40 to 50 grams dry herbs mix for Sabzi Polo (see headnote)
- 1 head of garlic (optional)
- 1 teaspoon saffron, powdered
- 80 to 100 grams canola or sunflower oil (you can substitute half of the amount of oil with the same amount of butter)
- At least 3 or 4 hours prior to cooking, rinse the rice in lukewarm water a couple of times, until the water is clear. Don’t stir the rice much as you could break the grains. Cover the rice in abundant lukewarm water by about 2 inches and add the salt. Set aside for 3 or 4 hours.
- If you are using fresh herbs, trim and wash them. Dry the leaves very well and chop, but not too finely. If you are using dry herbs, soak the herbs in lukewarm warm water for at least 3 hours. Then drain well. If you’re using garlic, clean the bulb and keep it whole.
- After the rice has been soaked, bring water to boil in a large pot. Drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. You could add 1 tablespoon of oil. Stir gently once or twice. Wait for the water to come back to boil. Remove the foam on top once or twice.
- In the mean time, dissolve the saffron in 2 tablespoons of hot water. When the water for the rice has comes back to a boil, taste it. Once it’s soft in the outside and hard inside it is ready to drain. (The amount of time will depend a lot on the type of rice, and where it's cooked. That's why it's best to taste it as it cooks.) Use a fine mesh strainer/sieve to drain the rice and rinse it briefly with lukewarm water.
- Put the pot back on a high flame, add half of the oil (you want to cover the bottom of the pan), 1/2 cup of water, and about 2 teaspoons of the saffron liquid. Add a layer of rice and top with a layer of herbs. Do so until you finish both. If using the garlic, put the bulb in the middle of rice and herbs. Shape the rice mixture into a small hill. Add the rest of the oil on top. If using butter instead, put nubs of butter randomly on top of the rice. Place the lid in the middle of a clean, cotton kitchen cloth, then bring back the corners of the kitchen cloth to the lid’s handle in order to cover the bottom of the lid. Put the cotton-wrapped lid back on the pot and make sure it’s well shut. Turn down the heat to low. Cook for 20 to 35 minutes, then turn off the heat and wait for 5 to 10 minutes before opening the lid. This way, you should be able to easily remove the crispy rice from the bottom of the pot.
- Next open the lid. Spoon 7 or 8 small spoonfuls of the herby rice into a small bowl and mix with the remaining saffron water. Remove the garlic bulb. Serve the rice in a large platter, using the saffron rice to top the dish at the end.
For the fried fish and herby condiment:
- Oil, for frying
- 2 medium free-range eggs
- Salt and pepper, for seasoning
- 60 grams flour
- 3 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 500 grams deboned, skinned, fish fillet, cut in 2-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons dried barberries
- 4 walnuts, chopped
- 1 small bunch of parsley, chopped
- 1 small bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
- The fresh juice of a bitter orange or a lemon, plus wedges for serving
- Heat enough oil in a deep pan so that the pieces of fish fillet will be completely covered. Beat the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Mix the flour, the turmeric powder, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Bathe the fish pieces first in egg, let the excess drip, then coat in the flour mixture. Fry in the hot oil until golden.
- Wash the barberries and cook briefly with some oil in another pan. Mix in the chopped walnuts, and chopped parsley and coriander. After stirring once or twice, pour in the bitter orange/lemon juice. Season to taste with salt. Once the mixture comes to boil, the condiment is ready.
- Serve the fish on a platter, sprinkle the herby condiment with barberries on top. Garnish with wedges of bitter orange or lemon.
- Each person makes their own plate of herby rice plus the fish.
- This recipe is a Community Pick!