Sabzi Polo (Polow) Mahi, Persian Herbed Rice with Fish, is a traditional Nowruz recipe. Nowruz is the Persian spiritual New Year; celebrated not just in Iran, but in many other central Asian countries, and falls on the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. You can read more about Nowruz and its history on the Nowruz Recipes Page.
Sabzi – vegetables or in this instance, herbs, from the word sabz, meaning green
Polo – rice recipe, just like the more commonly known pilau or pulao
Mahi – fish
Sabzi Polo Mahi is an absolutely beautiful rice dish, full of aromatic herbs, the perfumed rice being perfectly complemented by the lightly spiced fish.
Just as the Chinese New Year is symbolically rich, Nowruz is also full of foods and items that represent so much of Life, as you will see when you hop on over to read all about Nowruz here. What better way to ring in the New Year than with a dish like Sabzi Polo Mahi; the sabzi (the green herbs) represent rebirth and renewal while the mahi (fish) represents life.
Cooking Sabzi Polo Mahi
For those of us who can’t get Persian rice, basmati is the next best thing. Traditionally, in many cuisines, the rice is first soaked in salted water for at least a couple of hours before cooking. However, I have long dispensed with the soaking method, having found that I much prefer the final texture without. If you are a soaking kind of person though, go ahead, soak the rice in cool water for a couple of hours with 2 tsp of salt, before proceeding with the recipe.
You can see in the images that we have 2 colours of rice. Quite often, this dish is cooked with just the herbs, oil/butter and maybe some garlic. I find that an altogether insipid affair, desperately needing a few side dishes to complete it. To that end, I add some liquid saffron to the mix, for flavour and colour, which is not uncommon when making this Persian herbed rice. However, as you can see, I colour/flavour only half the rice, leaving the other half green, for a very pleasing effect, both aesthetically and gustatorily.
The conventional fish used for this recipe is white fish; you can use tilapia, sea bass, monkfish or anything similar. However, my favourite type of fish with Sabzi Polo is some sort of smoked white fish, preferably haddock, also not an uncommon way to serve this Persian herbed rice. The deeper, smoky flavour takes the whole dish to another level. Regular fresh salmon comes a close second to me, even if it’s not standard practice.
The fish is seasoned and fried in a little bit of oil. How much you season the fish is a matter of preference. If you have access to Middle Eastern grocers or even Indian grocers, you’ll come across packets of fish spice mix which can contain anything up to a dozen or so spices and aromatics such as cumin, coriander, fenugreek, turmeric, garlic and so on.
However, I prefer to just lightly season whatever fish I use by coating it in flour flavoured with salt, turmeric and paprika. We finish the cooked fish with some lemon juice and hey presto, the perfect accompaniment to the flavoured rice. Whether I happen to be using regular fish fillets or smoked fish, I season them the same way. If using salmon, a touch of salt and pepper is all that’s needed, no flour.
We don’t use much oil in frying the fish. However, if you don’t fancy frying, you can always grill (broil) or bake the fish. Grill under medium high heat on both sides until done. Bake at 200˚C (400˚F) for 20 – 25 minutes, depending on how thick your fish is, uncovered in the last 5 minutes.
Nothing fancy, we have coriander (cilantro), parsley (flat or curly), dill, chives and/or spring onions (scallions). Most traditional recipes will call for chives or spring onions, but I feel that the spring onions are necessary in the dish, chives are just not robust enough on their own, especially, as you will see, I cook the rice with the white part of the spring onions. But as chives do have their own grassy appeal, I prefer to use them too.
What I also do, is save about a third of the fresh herbs to add to the rice before serving. This allows the aroma and flavour of the herbs to be fully appreciated, as much of that is lost in the cooking process.
How to Serve Sabzi Polo Mahi?
Sabzi Polo Mahi is perfect served with some fresh herbs, salad and some sort of pickle to add a slight kick to the meal, especially if it’s a spicy pickle. These are just some of the sides I have served Sabzi Polo Mahi with, over the years:
And if you fancy more recipes, just head on over to the Nowruz page, where you’ll find a couple of Persian cookie recipes:
There you have it, folks, a pretty easy recipe to cook up, even if it is in 2 parts, with the rice and the fish.
To all my readers and friends who celebrate Nowruz, wherever you may be, I wish you a very Happy Nowruz, and a blessed year ahead!
To everyone else, a wonderful weekend!
Lin xx Sabzi Polo (Polow) Mahi, Persian Herbed Rice with Fish, is a traditional recipe for Nowruz, the Persian New Year that falls on the first day of spring.
Sabzi Polo Mahi (Persian Herbed Rice with Fish)
Sabzi Polo (Polow) Mahi, Persian Herbed Rice with Fish, is a traditional recipe for Nowruz, the Persian New Year that falls on the first day of spring.