Sabzi Polo ba Mahi: The iconic Nowruz dinner

Ajam Media Collective is pleased to present a four-part series of recipes to help you celebrate Nowruz on March 20th. Nowruz, which marks the beginning of Spring, is celebrated as the start of the New Year across Iran, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Central Asia and the Balkans.

These recipes, compiled by Roya Soleymani, focus on Iranian culinary traditions associated with the holiday. These recipes focus on Iranian culinary traditions associated with the holiday. Click here for Roya’s recipes for ash-e reshteh and nun nokhodchi.

Roya grew up an Iranian-American in Seattle and visits family in Iran annually. Some of her best memories in Iran have been cooking with her grandmother, taking notes and keeping the delicious family recipes alive for a cookbook she is currently creating. Follow Roya on Instagram @rmsoleymani.


Sabzi Polo ba Mahi

Serves: 6
Total Time: 1 hour

Sabzi Polo ba Mahi, herbed rice with white fish, is the traditional Iranian Nowruz dish usually served either as the last dinner of the old year, or the first dinner of the new year. This light dish, tossed with an abundance of fresh herbs, symbolizes spring and new growth. Some families enjoy smoked white fish while others enjoy fried white fish; both the type of fish and its preparation vary from region to region. This particular recipe is from my grandmother who grew up in Tabriz, in a northwestern province of Iran.

The ritual of preparing this particular dish is as important to the holiday as the meal itself: the aromatic herbs scent the house as family members wash and chop them, a familiar Nowruz smell. Large quantities are always cooked in case family or friends drop in to wish everyone a happy new year. The coming of spring is always a cheerful time filled with celebration, surrounded by loved ones while enjoying some delicious Sabzi Polo ba Mahi!

2 lb white fish fillets, cleaned
3 cups rice
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup lightly packed dried dill (can use fresh dill as well)
1 bunch garlic chives (can substitute green onions), finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small russet potato, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)
½ cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon saffron, ground
2 tablespoons oil
2 lemons
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon salt

Quick tips before beginning:

Pre-wash, dry and finely chop all the herbs.
Use a mortar and pestle to grind the saffron into a powder.
Placing the thinly sliced potatoes in the butter before putting the rice back in the pot, forms the crispy bottom of the rice known as tahdig. This can be made with thin flatbread such as lavash as well. Potatoes or lavash are optional as melted butter can be used alone.
When cooking Iranian rice, use a damkoni to catch the condensation and keep the rice dry. A damkoni is a padded cloth that fits under and around the lid of the rice pot. If you don’t have a damkoni, just wrap a kitchen towel around the lid or place a few pieces of paper towel under the lid.


  1. Rinse rice in cold water 3-4 times to wash and remove excess starch.
  2. In a 6 quart pot, add the rice and fill with water until it is covering the rice about 1 inch and add salt.
  3. Cook the rice on high until boiling.
  4. Combine the finely chopped parsley, cilantro, garlic chives, dried dill and garlic in a large bowl.
  5. After the rice has boiled for a few minutes, check a couple of grains to make sure it is al dente. If it is, drain the rice into a strainer.
  6. Using the same pot, melt the butter in the bottom, turning the heat to low.
  7. Carefully place the thinly sliced potatoes in a single layer in the butter.
  8. Combine the rice and herb mixture, mixing gently.
  9. Layer the rice and herbs back into the pot on top of the potatoes.
  10. Cook the rice on low and cover the pot with a damkoni for 25 minutes.
  11. While the rice is cooking, sprinkle the cleaned fish with salt and coat with flour.
  12. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil. Once the oil is hot turn to low and add the ground saffron.
  13. Place the breaded fish in the oil. Cook until golden on each side and cooked through. This will vary depending on the fish.
  14. Once the fish is done, place on a paper towel to soak up excess oil.

Serve the rice and fish together with a side of lemon wedges.


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