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 sabzi polo its distinctive color. In Persian, the word sabzi refers to vegetables and herbs, while polo is the Persian term for pilaf-like rice dishes. Traditional sabzi polo recipes tend to have highly detailed and elaborate procedures, while modern adaptations take a more practical, time-saving approach to preparing this popular Iranian cuisine.
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 essential to remove as much starch as possible to eliminate stickiness. Traditionally, after washing the rice three times, it is soaked in salt water for up to five hours. While the rice is soaking, the other ingredients are assembled and blended. Traditional sabzi polo recipes commonly include chopped chives, or the green part of green onions, dill, cilantro, and fenugreek.
After the rice has finished soaking in salt water, it is parboiled in a pot with tumeric, which imparts a golden color. The water is brought to a boil and the rice is added gently a little at a time to prevent clumping and to minimize breakage of individual grains. Keeping the water boiling, the rice is stirred to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. The heat is then 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 one-third of the rice is placed in an even layer on the bottom of the pot and about half of the herbs and spices are layered on top of it. 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 then layered evenly on top, and water or stock is added. Using a wooden spoon handle, four or five holes are made through the rice and herbs.
The pot is tightly covered and the sabzi polo is cooked at medium-high heat for about three minutes. The heat is then turned down and it is simmered 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 found on the bottom of the pot is usually served on the side in a separate dish.