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The Hungry Nomad: Sabzi Polo Mahee (Fish and Persian Herbed Rice)

March 19, 2012

Sabzi Polo Mahee (Fish and Persian Herbed Rice)

The weather has warmed up, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the Canadian geese are back from their winter trip down south in Mexico (I admire them). It can only mean one thing: Spring is here which means its also time for Persian New Year. On the day of the new year, Persians all over the world get together with family to have the famous sabzi polo meal. This is equivalent to Turkey dinner at Christmas. 

Sabzi polo is a colorful green version of the famous Persian polo (rice) dish. The green comes from a variety of fresh herbs including cilantro, parsley, dill and scallions. Sabzi polo is traditionally served with white fish but in my family we have replaced it with  fresh sockeye salmon given that we live in the mecca of fresh salmon. It is a really healthy meal and perfect for any time of year.  Here is the recipe for those craving this dish on Norooz or any other day of the year. 

Norooz Potluck with Friends
And happy Norooz to all Persians worldwide. 


4 c. Basmati rice
4 tbsp canola oil
1 large piece lavash bread or lettuce
1/2 c. scallion tops (greens only), washed & chopped fine
1 1/2 c. flat leaf parsley, washed & chopped fine
1 bunch (4-5 stalks) green garlic, washed but left whole
1 c. cilantro, washed & chopped fine
1 1/2 c. dill, washed & chopped fine

  1. Soak the rice in well-salted water for a few hours before cooking, changing the water once towards the end of the soak.
  2. Fill a large, heavy pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add a pinch of salt.
  3. Add the rice (and the water it was soaking in), and bring it back up to a boil.
  4. Stir gently a couple of times, and keep an eye on the grains - as they begin to turn translucent on the ends, occasionally take one out and chew it - you're looking for something slight on the crunchier side of "al dente", but chewable.
  5. Drain the rice in a colander, and run some water over it to rinse off the excess salt.
  6. Add the oil to your pot, along with 1/2 cup of water or milk (to make tahdeeg), and lay the lavash bread  on the bottom in one layer (an alternative to lavash bread is lettuce)
  7. Begin adding the rice and herbs into your pot, but "mounding" everything so that you have a pyramid of sorts at the end. You want to lightly "fluff" the herbs into the rice to incorporate as you go along. The garlic you want to lay about halfway through the mound in one or two layers as needed.
  8. With the handle of a wooden spoon, make a few holes around the mound of rice to create "steam vents"
  9. Wrap the lid of the pot in a clean kitchen towel and secure it, ensuring that the towel is well out of the way of any flame. 
  10. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons water or oil over the top of the rice, and put the lid on (the towel will help absorb the steam so water doesn't drip back onto the rice).
  11. Cook on high heat for 5-8 minutes until you see steam, and hear a sizzling/crackling coming from the bottom of the pot.
  12. Reduce to medium, and cook for another 15-20 minutes, keeping an ear and nose on things - you don't want to smell smoke, but you do want to hear light crackling/popping.
  13. Finally, reduce again to medium-low, and cook a final 10-15 minutes. You'll know it's ready when you smell a "toastiness" from the tahdeeg on the bottom, and the top grains of rice are tender.
Serve this with the fish, which you warm slowly in the oven, and narenj (bitter orange, which is actually tart-bitter). If you can't find narenj, lemons will do.
Traditionally, this dish is served with white king fish however I choose to use salmon. You can really substitute for any type of fish that you fancy cooked in any way you know best. 
My recipe for cooking the salmon is to place the pieces of fish in foil add lemon pieces and a bit of olive oil to the fish, wrap the fish in the foil and place it in the oven for 15-30 minutes depending on how many pieces of fish you are using. The fish will cook in its own steam leading to one delicious, juicy and healthy dish. 

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