Sabzi polo, a classic Persian herb rice is wonderfully fragrant and delicious. This fluffy rice dish is loaded with herbs and popular at the Persian new year, Nowruz. The crowning glory is the crunchy golden crust known as tahdig.
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What is Sabzi Polo?
Sabzi polo is a Persian rice dish made with lots of herbs, long grain rice (usually basmati) and saffron. ‘Sabzi’ means herbs and ‘polo’ means rice in Persian. It is often served with fish, in which case, it is known as sabzi polow ba mahi (herb rice and fish).
This herb rice is insanely delicious and smells so good! If you are a lover of Persian food (which is one of the most delicious cuisines), you may have already tried the famous dill rice found on most Persian restaurant menus.
If you like that rice, then sabzi polo is a must try and you may even be surprised why it is not wildly popular yet. It actually has a more complex taste. Also, it is aromatic like ghormeh sabzi and ash reshteh - the other Persian cuisine superstars that are also full of herbs.
By now you may have noticed the Persian culinary fascination for herbs!
Restaurant Quality Persian Herb Rice
There are different ways to make this amazing rice recipe. I will first share the steps for making it the traditional way which is also what you may get at Persian restaurants.
What is essential for restaurant quality taste are high quality basmati rice, finely chopped fresh herbs, original saffron and butter. To lighten it up a bit, you can try to use olive oil for the most part and use butter for the crunchy rice crust (tahdig) or a light drizzle on top.
Later in the post, I explain how you can make this herb rice using quicker methods at home. You can adjust the recipe to suit the occasion and lifestyle needs, choosing the cooking method and fat (butter or oil).
Recipe Ingredients and Substitutes
This Persian herb rice recipe uses easily available ingredients.
- Herbs: I use fresh herbs, but later in the post I explain how to make it with dried herbs. Fresh herbs are the best option and be sure chop them finely. I use lots of parsley, cilantro, dill and green onions (or chives).
- Rice: Use the best quality, aged, long grain basmati rice from a popular brand. Ask your local Indian grocer for the best variety in any brand, which is typically also the most expensive.
- Saffron: Choose high quality saffron as explained in the saffron tea post. Although it is expensive, you only need a small amount and the flavor is truly fantastic. Grind it to a fine powder using a mortar and pestle, to get the most out of it.
- Garlic: You can use a whole bulb of garlic to infuse the flavor as we do here, or just grate a few cloves and mix it with the herbs.
- Yogurt: If making a rice crust (tahdig), use couple tablespoons of regular yogurt (not Greek yogurt). But you can also make it without yogurt. I don't use it for the flatbread crust in this recipe.
- Cooking oil, Butter or Ghee: I use olive oil or avocado oil to make the rice. Butter or ghee is traditional and that is also more common in restaurants.
- Spices: We dont use spices for sabzi polo, but you can add some Persian spice mix (or substitute with a combination of ground cumin and ground coriander). And for the fish, I use some spices as listed in the recipe card.
- Fish: This is optional, but traditional, especially for special occasions. White-fleshed fish is often used, due to its tender texture and mild flavor. Select fish carefully to avoid harm from pollutants. Checkout Seafood Watch and their app for helpful consumer guides.
- Breadcrumbs or Flour: If making the fish, I use some panko breadcrumbs or flour to get a nice crust.
How To Make Sabzi Polo
**Brief overview below. Full recipe with ingredient amounts is at the end of post.
This recipe is not difficult at all. You simply arrange the herb and rice layers as we do for lasagna and the concept of making the crust (tahdig) is similar to pineapple upside down cake. More on tahdig below.
- Rinse the herbs and spread on a kitchen towel.
- Chop the herbs finely and combine.
- Cook basmati rice. Check the rice for doneness and drain the rice in a colander.
- Lay the flatbread in the bottom of the pan to make the crust and place the first layer of basmati rice.
- Make alternate thin layers of basmati rice and chopped herbs. Insert a whole garlic bulb in the center.
- Sprinkle saffron water on the rice.
- Cover with lid and steam the rice.
- Fluff up the rice and serve. Separate the crust at the bottom and serve on the side.
More About Tahdig
- The tahdig is generally made using cooked rice, flatbread or potato slices.
- To make a rice tahdig, combine cooked rice, yogurt and saffron water and spread that as a thick layer (¼ inch thick) over the oil or butter in the bottom of the dish and cook it to develop a golden brown and crisp crust.
- The amount of rice, yogurt, saffron water and oil or butter needed will depend on the size of the pot. Circumference.
- Then flip the dish and serve to display the crust on top, just like an upside down cake.
- Be sure to use sufficient oil or butter at the bottom of pan, for making the crust.
- A non-stick cooking pot is the best option for making the crust. If you don't have a non-stick pan, butter, ghee or coconut oil may work better to make a crust that you can easily remove from the pan.
Herb preparation: Pick out tough stems from the herbs and discard. Rinse and spin the herbs through a salad spinner. Spread it out on an absorbent kitchen towel and cover with another towel. Allow the moisture to absorb very well for several hours. Now it will be much easier to chop the herbs finely and to sprinkle without being clingy.
Keep the rice very green. Don't overcook sabzi polo to maintain a good color. To serve, you can sprinkle some very finely chopped herbs on the top and lightly stir it into the surface.
Traditional method: When boiling the rice using this method, be sure to watch the time (4 to 5 minutes). Drain the rice when parboiled. The grains should hold their shape, be soft at the tips and with a white dot in the center.
Rice cooker method: The amount of water needed can vary from 1¼ to 1¾ cups water per cup of rice, depending on the age of the rice. You can check rice cooker method video for this lentil and rice with cranberries.
What to Serve with Sabzi Polo?
- Sabzi Polo and Fish: Persian herbed rice is often served with fish. Usually it is white fish such as bass, halibut, haddock and flounder. But salmon, trout, tuna and mahi mahi will also be good. For more tips, check the sustainably farmed fish guide I linked above under ingredients.
- Other Options: Although not very common, you can also serve this with roasted chicken, shishlik (lamb chops) and salmon kabobs.
- Sides: Salads such as cucumber yogurt salad, radishes and more fresh herbs (yes, that is the Persian obsession with herbs :).
- Special Occasion: Popular at nowruz and in spring season, sabzi polo is served along with other traditional favorites such as kuku sabzi and chickpea cookies.
Sabzi polo is gluten free (with a rice crust). If using a flatbread crust, it would not be gluten-free. Below are some ideas you can try.
- Vegan/Dairy Free: Use only oil and skip butter or ghee. Don't use dairy based yogurt for making the tahdig.
- Lower Carb/Grain free: You could try replacing basmati rice with cauliflower rice.
- Healthier: Replace white basmati rice with brown basmati rice, adjusting the cooking time and amount of water as per package instructions.You could even try combinations with wild rice or quinoa.
There are 2 ways to do this.
Steaming cooked rice layers: Parboil rice and drain. Soak dried herbs for 20 minutes, drain and use for the herb layers as we do in this recipe.
Simple stove top method: In a cooking pot, combine basmati rice, water (1 cup rice for 1.5 cups water ratio), salt, oil and dried herbs without soaking. Bring it to a boil, lower the heat, cover with a lid and simmer until water is absorbed and rice grains are cooked. No need to soak herbs.
The second method is easier but some rice grains might get crushed while stirring. So, use a wider cooking pot, and stir rice and herbs carefully using utensils such as forks.
You can also mix and match fresh herbs with dried herbs. Or use a readymade sabzi polo mix that is available online at Amazon and other retailers.
Make sure to use the right amount of water and oil. Do not over cook the rice. Watch the time carefully. Use a wider pot and be gentle when stirring. For more on that, check the biryani recipe FAQs.
This recipe uses lots of fresh herbs, that are rich sources of anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and chemo-preventive phytochemicals. They are also good sources of chlorophyll, which is effective in reversing the carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic amines. And are also a good source of vitamin K, vitamin C and vitamin A.
More Persian Recipes
- Beans and Eggs (Baghali Ghatogh)
- Ash-e Jow (Barley Soup)
- Khoresh Bademjan (Persian Eggplant Stew
- Borani Esfenaj (Spinach Yogurt Dip)
★ DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? PLEASE COMMENT AND GIVE IT A STAR RATING BELOW!
Sabzi Polo (Persian Herb Rice)
Rice (check notes for quicker methods)
Flatbread Crust (optional, check notes for rice crust)
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- Lavash or tortillas, enough to fit the bottom of cooking pot
- Few drops saffron water from above
- 2 cups chopped dill weed or ½ cup dried dill
- 2 cups chopped cilantro or ½ cup dried cilantro
- 2 cups chopped parsley or ½ cup dried parsley
- ½ cup chopped green onions or chives
- 1 whole bulb garlic or 3 cloves grated garlic
- 2 pounds white fish bass, haddock, halibut etc., fillet for frying
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil or olive oil, 2 tablespoons more if shallow frying
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander or ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ cup panko bread crumbs or all purpose flour
- Lemon or lime juice
- In a large cooking pot, take 10 cups of water with 2 tablespoons salt and bring it to a rolling boil. Add basmati rice and boil at medium high to high heat for 4 to 5 minutes until rice grains are soft. Stir the rice while it is cooking. Drain rice in a colander and set aside.
- Flatbread crust (optional): Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter in a wide non-stick dutch oven. Spread the oil or butter evenly and sprinkle few drops of saffron water. Place the lavash or tortillas to fit the base of the pan.
- Combined all the finely chopped herbs in a mixing bowl. Carefully slice off the top of the garlic bulb, just enough to expose the flesh inside, and making sure that the cloves are held together. Tip: If using grated garlic cloves just mix that with the herbs.
- Spread a layer of rice, followed by sprinkling a thin layer of herbs.
- Assemble the dill rice by making several alternating thin layers of rice and herbs. Insert the garlic bulb in the center of the dish.
- Finally top it with a rice layer. Drizzle 4 tablespoons of olive oil or melted butter and remaining saffron water all over the rice.
- Cover with a sheet of parchment paper, followed by aluminum foil. Place a tight fitting lid and seal well.
- Raise the heat to high for 5 minutes and then reduce to low-medium and simmer for about 30 minutes until steam builds up well.
- Turn off the heat and let it rest a few minutes. Remove the lid and take some scoops of the top layer of saffron colored rice and set it aside for garnish.
- When the steam has released a little, gently mix the top layers of rice and herbs and plate it on a serving dish. Top with a sprinkle of very finely chopped fresh herbs and saffron rice.
- Carefully remove the flatbread crust from the bottom of the pan and serve it on the side. Cut it into pieces if you prefer.
- Serve the rice immediately with yogurt salad such as mast-o-musir. See notes below for oven and rice cooker methods.
- Preheat oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the fish on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and pat dry using paper towels.
- Brush 2 tablespoons oil over the fish. Combine salt, black pepper, ground coriander and turmeric. Sprinkle the spice mix evenly, followed by the bread crumbs and press it down lightly.
- Bake in the oven until the fish turns light golden brown on top and flakes easily with a fork, about 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with lemon juice and arrange on the rice or serve on the side.
- To shallow fry: Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a skillet at medium high. Place the seasoned fish fillets on the skillet and fry until golden brown on both sides, flipping in between.
- Herb preparation: Pick out tough stems and discard. Rinse and spin through a salad spinner. Spread herbs between two absorbent kitchen towels. Allow the moisture to absorb very well for several hours. Now it will be much easier to chop the herbs finely and to sprinkle without being clingy.
- Rinse basmati rice several times, until the water is clear and not starchy.
- Traditional method: When boiling the rice using this method, be sure to watch the time (4 to 5 minutes). Drain the rice when parboiled. The grains should hold their shape, be soft at the tips and with a white dot in the center.
- Rice cooker method: The amount of water needed can vary from 1¼ to 1¾ cups water per cup of rice, depending on the age of the rice. You can check rice cooker method video for this lentil and rice with cranberries.
- Oven Method:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat 2 tablespoon of olive oil or butter in oven proof dish such as a Pyrex baking dish. Spread the oil or butter evenly and sprinkle few drops of saffron water. Place flatbreads to fit the base of the pan.
- Arrange the parboiled rice and herbs in several alternating layers as explained in the recipe above.
- Drizzle oil or melted butter and remaining saffron water all over the rice.
Cover with a sheet of parchment paper, followed by aluminum foil and seal well. Bake for about an hour until steam builds up well.
- If making the crust (tahdig) it should be golden. And if using a glass dish, you can check the base.
- Transfer the baking dish from the oven and let it rest a few minutes before serving.
- How to make sabzi polo with dried herbs?
There are 2 ways to do this.
- Steaming cooked rice layers: Parboil rice and drain. Soak dried herbs for 20 minutes, drain and use for the herb layers as we do in this recipe.
- Simple stove top method: In a cooking pot, combine basmati rice, water (1 cup rice for 1.5 cups water ratio), salt, oil and dried herbs without soaking. Bring it to a boil, lower the heat, cover with a lid and simmer until water is absorbed and rice grains are cooked. No need to soak herbs.
- The second method is easier but some rice grains might get crushed while stirring. So, use a wider cooking pot, and stir rice and herbs carefully using utensils such as forks.
- You can also mix and match fresh herbs with dried herbs. Or use a readymade sabzi polo mix that is available online at Amazon and other retailers.
- Rice crust: Mix couple big scoops of cooked rice with 2 to 3 tablespoons yogurt, 2 teaspoons saffron water and spread a ¼ inch thick layer evenly over the oil or butter in the bottom of the dish. Tip: Adjust the rice-yogurt mixture used according to the size of the pot used.
- Optional Spices: You may sprinkle 1 teaspoon advieh (Persian spice blend or a combination of ground cumin and ground coriander) between rice layers.
- Make Ahead: Have the chopped herbs ready the day before. The herb rice freezes beautifully. Just thaw and reheat it.
- Grinding Saffron: Using a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron threads with a pinch of salt or sugar into a fine powder.
- Nutrition facts not including salt, optional crust and fish.
- Check the full blog post above for more about ingredients, tahdig, tips, serving suggestions, recipe FAQs and variations.