What is Sabzi Polo?

Sabzi polo is a traditional Persian rice dish that is often served with fish, especially during New Year’s celebrations. Most recipes incorporate bright green herbs that give the sabzi pole its distinctive color. In Persian, the word sabzi refers to vegetables and herbs, while polo is the Persian term for pilaf-type rice dishes. Traditional sabzi polo recipes tend to have very detailed and elaborate procedures, while modern adaptations take a more hands-on, time-saving approach to preparing this popular Iranian cuisine.

Fenugreek is a spice used in cooking and in dietary supplements.

A long-grain variety of rice such as basmati is preferred for making sabzi polo, as short-grain varieties tend to be too sticky. Even when using a long grain rice, it is critical to remove as much starch as possible to eliminate stickiness. Traditionally, after the rice is washed three times, it is soaked in salt water for up to five hours. While the rice soaks, the other ingredients are assembled and mixed. Traditional polo sabzi recipes commonly include chopped scallions or the green part of green onions, dill, coriander, and fenugreek.

Tumeric gives the sabzi pole its golden color.

Once the rice has finished soaking in salt water, it is parboiled in a pot with turmeric, which gives it a golden color. The water is brought to a boil and the rice is added gently, a little at a time, to prevent lumping and minimize breakage of individual grains. Keeping the water boiling, the rice is stirred to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Then the heat is reduced to medium and the rice is cooked for several more minutes. The rice is ready for the next step when a grain placed between the teeth shows some softness in the middle without being cooked through.

After parboiling, the rice is drained and then steamed in a pot with water and oil along with the previously assembled herbs and spices. About a third of the rice is placed in an even layer in the bottom of the pot and about half of the herbs and spices are placed on top. Another third of the rice is then placed in a second layer and the rest of the herbs and spices are placed on top of that layer. The last third of the rice is placed evenly on top and water or broth is added. With the handle of a wooden spoon, four or five holes are made through the rice and herbs.

Cover the pot tightly and cook the sabzi polo over medium-high heat for about three minutes. Then lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. It is then gently stirred with a fork to mix the rice with the herbs and spices. The crispy layer of rice that sits at the bottom of the pot is usually served on the side in a separate dish.

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