Persian herb rice with fish, ‘sabzi polow mahi’, is a popular dish served for Nowruz which combines some of the most symbolic foods of the celebration into a delicious, fresh and healthy meal. It’s a dish that’s delicious any time.
Last year in particular, I dig a lot of digging about dishes that are traditionally eaten for Nowruz, and it definitely left me hungry. I have gradually been trying a few, from savory dishes like Persian herb fritatta, kuku sabzi and dolmeh barge mo – stuffed vine leaves, and sweet treats like Persian walnut cookies and Persian rice cookies. This tasty fish and rice dish is another common part of the festivities, but it’s definitely something you could enjoy any time.
What is Nowruz?
Nowruz (‘now’ meaning ‘new’ and ‘ruz’ meaning ‘day’ or originally ‘light’) is the celebration of the Spring Equinox. It originates in Iran, but is celebrated by a number of countries in the region, and is recognized by the UN. You’ll find events for the festival in a number of major cities around the world – I’m hoping to maybe get to some of the events in Boston’s MFA and I know New York and San Francisco also have things on. But even if you don’t have one near you, you can enjoy some of the foods for Nowruz at home.
Nowruz is an ancient tradition, and as such the way it is celebrated varies from one place to another, but there are some things that are common. Spring cleaning, various festivities, visiting family and neighbors and a decorative centerpiece in homes and public places (‘Haft Seen’ in Iran) are part of most. Foods also vary, but many are symbolic such as eggs representing fertility, herbs for rebirth and fish for life. The various visits to friends and family are often accompanied by cookies and other sweet treats. Legend goes that one of the Persian kings discovered sugar on Nowruz, and candy comes from the Persian word ‘qand’ for sugar.
How to make Persian herb rice with fish, sabzi polow mahi
The fish part of this dish varies a lot from one house to another – smoked fish is quite common, while others bake or fry. I’ve gone for pan-frying fish fillets dredged in a seasoned flour for some delicious, complimentary flavors and colors. It’s both easy and something that’s easily enjoyed. It seems the more traditional way to cook the rice is to layer the rice and herbs, but I went for the easier and quicker mixing through. One of the classic aspects of many Persian rice dishes is a crust on the bottom of the pan, that becomes the top when you tip it out, and there’s a little of that here that is a lovely contrast to the tender fish and soft rice below.
Colorful, flavorful, and something the whole family can enjoy, sabzi polow mahi makes a great dinner that I know we at least will definitely be having again.
This dish is traditional for Nowruz, but the fresh flavors are a delicious meal any time.
- 1 cup long grain/basmati rice
- 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
- 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- 2 tbsp finely chopped dill
- 2 tbsp finely chopped green onions/scallions or chives
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp butter cut into chunks
- 1.25 - 1.5 lb firm fish fillets eg pollock haddock (salmon would also work - I used pollock)
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1/4 tsp salt or part/all garlic salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp finely chopped dill
- 2 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
Wash the rice well in a number of changes of water until the water is almost clear when you rinse (around 4-5 changes of water). Finely chop the herbs and set aside.
Boil a pot of water, at least 3 cups, and add the salt and the rice. Cover and bring to a boil, reduce heat so that the pot doesn’t boil over and cook for around 5min.
Test the rice - it should be a little soft on the outside but still firm inside (‘al dente’). Drain in a colander and mix through the herbs.
Return the pot to the heat and warm the oil over a medium heat. Put the herbed rice into the pot and make three holes in the rice to allow steam to escape. Dot the butter on top, put a cloth over the pan to catch the steam then cover with a lid. Reduce the heat and cook on low for around 30-40mins.
Meanwhile, mix together the flour, salt, pepper, turmeric and dill on a plate. Dredge the fish fillets in the seasoned flour on both sides and shake off any excess.
Warm the oil in a large skillet and cook the fish for around 5min on each side, depending on thickness of fillets, until cooked through.
To serve the rice, try to cover the pan with a plate and invert it so you get the crust on top, or else make sure you get the crust from the pan to enjoy alongside everything else.
Try these other fish dishes:
I first shared this recipe in the post Persian herb rice with fish for Nowruz on the Sunday Supper Movement site where I am a contributor. You can also find more Nowruz menu ideas in that post.