Sabzi Polo & Mahi

21 March 2019

Today is Norooz, Happy New Year to all those who celebrate it! On this occasion I share the recipe of my version of Sabzi Polo (rice with herbs) and Mahi (fish). These dishes are traditionally served for the Persian New Year and it’s a real treat.


The Persian New Year is celebrated every year to mark the beginning of spring, and most of the dishes served during the Norooz festivities have fresh herbs in them. They are symbols of rebirth, and the fish represents life. During these festivities, we also prepare desserts like Samanu.

The fish

I do not know if there has ever been a single recipe for Sabzi Polo ba Mahi, because from my experience I can say that every Iranian cook has their own recipe. Some people fry the fish, some boil it, some roast it in the oven, and so on. Even for the type of fish used, there is no defined rule. Which is good for me, because I live in Europe (and more specifically in Alsace)  so I do not necessarily have access to delicious fish from the Caspian Sea or the Persian Gulf. In addition I like to adapt the recipe to the taste of my French friends.

My recipe is made with a good fresh trout from the rivers of Alsace. I can even say that it was almost as good as some Sabzi Polo & Mahis that I have had in Iran. You can very well use salmon too. In Iran people are more likely to cook white-fleshed fish in the south and red-fleshed fish in the north. However, for this particular dish, white fish is more prevalent.

Rice with herbs

Polo in Iranian cuisine is a rice-based dish. It is usually made with steamed cooked basmati rice. Sabzi is a mixture of herbs. The traditional herbs used in our dish today are Tareh (green Nira, which I replaced with the green parts of green onions), coriander, parsley and dill.


Tahdig is not really part of the Sabzi Polo ba Mahi recipe, but since it is one of the best things in Iranian food, I really wanted to talk about it.

Tahdig is a piece of bread that is coated with gease and placed in the bottom of the pan in which we prepare our rice. As the time span between a perfectly cooked rice and burnt rice is super short, this piece of bread secures the bottom of the pan in case burning happens. We all know that there is nothing worse than scraping burnt rice in the bottom of a saucepan! I other words, the bread sacrifices itself for the rice.

But why is a burnt piece bread any good you might ask? Not good indeed. Our hope is to not burn the bread. In fact it is only in the case where the bread does not burn that we obtain Tahdig. A successful Tahdig is crispy, fat and has absorbed the scent of rice. And to make it even better, you can even add a pinch of saffron.


The majority of Iranians like to accompany their dish with raw fresh herbs. It often seems strange and unappetizing to others though. But if you are curious and like trying new things prepare yourself a basket of fresh herbs: basil, parsley, dill, mint, etc. We take a few leaves between each bite of the meal.

A little less odd, there is the Mast-o-Khiar, which is to meke it simple, an Iranian version of the greek Tzatziki. The recipe is simple: yogurt + grated cucumber + dried mint leaves + salt + pepper + dried rose. Finally, there are garlic pickles, which are particularly popular in the north of Iran and are a good match for fish dishes.

Ingredients (for 6) :

  • 600g Rice
  • 2 Limes
  • About 10 Green onions
  • 10g Butter
  • 10ml Olive oil
  • 8 Garlic cloves
  • 2Kg Fish filets cut into 6 pieces
  • 2 Tsp Cumin
  • 170g Dill (cleaned and seperated from branches) + a handful for decoration
  • 220g Parsley (cleaned and seperated from branches)
  • 150ml Cooking oil or melted butter
  • 1 Tsp Cinnamon
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Saffron (optional)
  • Thin bread



Wash the rice: rinse until the rinse water becomes clear.


Then let the rice rest in water with 1Cc of salt while you prepare the water.


Boil about 1 L of water in a very large saucepan. Add 1Tsp salt.


Pour the rice in boiling water and cook for about 7-9 minutes.


Meanwhile, chop the dill, parsley and green parts of two fresh onion bunches.


When the rice begins to rise on the surface of the water, it is cooked. Pour the rice in a colander and rinse lightly with cold tap water. Do not turn off the heat. Lower it just a little.


Put the saucepan back on the heat and pour half of the cooking oil / butter. If you have saffron, mix it warm water ans add to the cooking oil.


If you want to make Tahdig with bread, put it in the bottom of the saucepan.


Put 1/4 of the rice over the bread (if there is no bread, just at the bottom of the saucepan), add 1/4 of the herbs and sprinkle 1/4 of the cinnamon.


Repeat the process, adding a layer of rice, a layer of herbs and a little cinnamon each time. Finish with 4 cloves of garlic cut in half each.


Pour the remaining oil / butter over everything, and then 10ml hot water.


Wrap the lid of your saucepan with a clean cloth and put it on top to prevent the steam from coming out. Let the rice cook on low heat for 40 minutes.


In a bowl, mix the juice of one of the two limes, the melted butter, the olive oil, 3 chopped onions (without the green parts) and 4 cloves of garlic cut in very thin slices.


Sprinkle fish fillets on both sides with 2 tablespoons salt, 1 tablespoon pepper and the cumin.


Prepare a baking tray with a small rim or a large dish. Cover with baking sheet or aluminum foil and place the fish fillets on it. Pour the mixture of oil and lemon juice over the fish fillets. Turn the fillets so that they are completely soaked with this juice.


Take the green parts of the remaining onion bunches and cut thin strips with. Put them on the fish.


Cut the second lime into slices and spread over the fish.


Let the fish rest in the marinade for about ten minutes.


Preheat your oven on 200° c.


Place the fish in oven ans let it cook for 10-15 minutes.


Arrange the fish in a dish with a handful of dill leaves.


To give some color and scent to your rice dish, you can take a few spoons of the rice, with a little pinch of saffron and 2-3 spoons of hot water and mix it all together.


Place your saffron rice on top of the rest to give it a nice look.

I hope you have managed to make a Tahdig. If not, do not be sad. It happens, even to the best of cooks.

I wish you all a happy spring.

Norooz mobarak!




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