Sabzi Polo (Persian Herbed Rice Pilaf)

updated Mar 19, 2021
Sabzi Polo (Persian Herbed Rice Pilaf)

Sabzi polo is a cherished Persian rice dish that celebrates fresh herbs and the art of making fluffy rice with a crispy base called Tahdig.

Serves4 to 6

Prep1 hour

Cook1 hour to 1 hour 5 minutes

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sabzi polo sits on a plate next to water glasses and a napkin
Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Sabzi polo is a cherished Persian rice dish that celebrates fresh herbs and the art of making fluffy rice with a crispy base called tahdig, all of which are signature elements of Persian cuisine. This fragrant rice is a must-have for Nowruz, the Persian new year, as herbs are a symbol of rebirth and health. Traditionally the rice is served with a white-fleshed fish that’s pan-fried, creating a golden, crispy outer layer and flaky, tender fish on the inside.

As a child growing up in Iran, I have fond memories of eating sabzi polo while visiting family along the shores of the Caspian Sea. The area is well-known for its vast rice fields, regional vegetables, herbs, and, of course, seafood!  

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

My Favorite Herbs for Sabzi Polo

Although there are regional variations in the type and amounts of herbs used, dill generally takes center stage, while parsley, cilantro, and chives play supporting roles. The final, powerful herb that brings a remarkable depth to this dish is fenugreek.  

While other cultures use fenugreek both as a seed and as an herb, Iranians rely mostly on the use of the plant’s leaves, fresh or dried. The next time you’re at your local Middle-Eastern market, check out its herbs and spice section — you’re most likely to find fenugreek in dried form. Fenugreek is called shanbaleeleh in Farsi, and methi in Hindi.

While I use fresh herbs in this recipe, dried herbs are more intense and deliver a bigger punch. I often prefer them because of their flavor profile, which is familiar from my mother’s cooking. If you want to switch from fresh to dried, keep in mind that you’ll need to reduce the quantity to about a third.

Patience Is Key

The secret to preparing this Persian rice is patience and no peeking. The partially parboiled rice and fresh herbs are nestled inside the cooking pot, covered with a towel-wrapped lid, and cooked over medium-low flame for about 45 minutes. Taking the lid off during cooking — even for a moment — will let out the steam and spoil the rice!

I prefer to use a nonstick pot so that I can flip the rice out of the pot and present it much like an upside-down cake. The flip is bound to impress your audience!

Tester’s Note

If you don’t have a nonstick pot, you can use a medium-sized nonstick skillet, as I did — just be sure to keep the heat between medium-low and low to prevent the bottom of the tahdig from burning. The finished rice will be thinner, but just as tasty and equally impressive. — Amelia Rampe, Studio Food Editor

Sabzi Polo (Persian Herbed Rice Pilaf)

Sabzi polo is a cherished Persian rice dish that celebrates fresh herbs and the art of making fluffy rice with a crispy base called Tahdig.

Prep time 1 hour

Cook time 1 hour to 1 hour 5 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 cups

    basmati rice

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    saffron threads

  • 2 cups

    fresh dill leaves and tender stems (from 1 bunch)

  • 1 1/2 cups

    fresh parsley leaves, leaves and tender stems (from 1 bunch)

  • 1 1/2 cups

    fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems (from 1 bunch)

  • 1/4 cup

    coarsely chopped garlic or regular chives

  • 1 tablespoon

    dried fenugreek leaves

  • 8 1/4 cups

    water, divided, plus more for soaking

  • 3 tablespoons

    kosher salt

  • 4 tablespoons

    vegetable oil, divided

Instructions

  1. Place 2 cups basmati rice in a medium bowl, cover with water, and let soak 1 hour. Meanwhile, prepare the saffron and herbs.

  2. Using the back of your knife or a mortar and pestle, grind 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads until finely ground. Transfer to a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon hot water.

  3. Line a baking sheet with paper or kitchen towels. Wash the following herbs and transfer to the prepared baking sheet, keeping them separate: 2 cups dill leaves, 1 1/2 cups parsley leaves, and 1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro leaves. Pat the herbs dry. Work with 1 herb at a time, transfer to a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and pulse until coarsely chopped, 15 to 20 pulses. Transfer to a large bowl.

  4. Coarsely chop garlic or regular chives until you have 1/4 cup. Add the chives and 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves to the herbs and stir to combine.

  5. When the rice is ready, drain in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse until the water runs clear. Bring 8 cups of the water and 3 tablespoons kosher salt to a boil in a 3-quart non-stick pot over high heat. Add the rice and boil uncovered until the rice has slightly softened but still has a bite to it, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the rice in a colander and quickly rinse with warm water.

  6. Transfer about 1 cup of the parboiled rice to the soaked saffron and gently stir to combine. Add the remaining rice to the herbs and gently stir until the rice and herbs are combined.

  7. Wipe the non-stick pot dry. Add 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil and spread it around. Spread the saffron rice evenly over the bottom of the pot to cover the entire surface. This will be the crispy rice referred to as the tahdig. Top with the herb rice and lightly fluff with a fork, being careful not to disturb the saffron rice on the bottom.

  8. Stir the remaining 1/4 cup water and remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil together in a small measuring cup and pour evenly over the top of the rice. Wrap the lid of the pot with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels and place on top of the pot. This will allow the rice to steam.

  9. Cook the rice undisturbed (do not lift the lid) over medium-low heat for 45 to 50 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool 5 minutes.

  10. Uncover the pot. Invert a large plate or platter (wider than the pot) over the pot. Grasping both the plate and the pot with oven mitts, carefully and swiftly flip the rice onto the serving plate. Remove the pot.

Recipe Notes

Ingredient Variation: Butter or ghee can be substituted for the oil.

Equipment: You can use a medium non-stick skillet instead of a 3-quart pot for this recipe. The finished rice will be thinner than the rice made in the pot.

Storage: Refrigerate in airtight container up to 3 days.