Like a perfect roasted turkey for Thanksgiving or Chinese dumplings for the new year, Sabzi Polo ba Mahi is the wonderful meal that makes you taste Nowruz’s arrival. What a delicious taste! You feel the softness of fish that melts in your mouth while the herbal rice spoils you with its delectability. Something is missing in an Iranian household if they don’t eat this dish in the Persian new year.
If you ask Iranians why do you eat Sabzi Polo ba Mahi for Nowruz, you might not find a reliable story or find out when this tradition started. But, a myth might give us a clue about the ideology behind eating Sabzi Polo and Mahi.
Where Does Sabzi Polo ba Mahi Come From?
It all started at the end of a cold winter when a wicked beast stole the Great Solomon’s ring. Solomon had a ring with extraordinary powers like controlling all jinns and fairies. So everyone wanted this ring for themselves. One day, a shapeshifter beast made himself look like Solomon, stole the ring, and wore the crown. He threw the ring into a river to make sure that no one would find and take it away.
When Solomon found out that he had lost everything, he tried so hard to convince people that he was the honest Solomon, but no one believed him. Feeling miserable, he went to a river and tried fishing to at least have something to eat. He got a fish and opened it to make it ready for cooking. But guess what? His ring was there, so the happy Solomon got a delicious fish to eat and his ring back. What an awesome ending!
Based on this story, Iranians serve Sabzi Polo Mahi to find their happiness and have a blessed new year. Now that you know the story, you should get familiar with the main ingredients.
What Do You Need for Sabzi Polo Mahi?
The best part of making Sabzi Polo Mahi is preparing the fish. Since seafood is common mostly in the north and south of Iran, you can make Sabzi Polo ba Mahi using the southern style or the northern ones. Either way, the result would be exceptional.
Preparing the Fish in the South of Iran
If you want to be fully committed and make the food as authentic as possible, you should go with a fish called Shir or mackerel, which has a deliciously soft taste. After cleaning and washing the fish, you need to pour lots of salt on both sides of it and let it rest for half an hour. Then, you should put the fish in a bowl full of cold water for 10 minutes to extract the extra salt. Then, dry it completely and add turmeric to it.
Preparing the Fish in the North of Iran
People of the north usually use Mahi Sefid or Caspian kutum, which is very tender and appealing to most tastes. You need to wash and dry the fish and add salt and turmeric to prepare it. You can use trout fish or salmon if you cannot find Mahi Sefid or Shir.
Mahi Doodi or Smoked Fish
The perfect Sabzi Polo ba Mahi uses the addition of Mahi Doodi or smoked fish, which adds a fantastic flavor to your dish. Preparing smoked fish is not possible in the house unless you have an empty room to which you can say goodbye and loads of rice straw. In order to make smoked fish, people of the north and south fill the floor with rice straw, hang the dried fish and burn the straws. The fish will slowly cook by the smoke and be ready after a week. To avoid such a complicated process, you can easily buy Persian smoked fish from Iranian stores all around the world and put a small part of them on your rice to give out its flavor.
The significance of herbs in Sabzi Polo ba Mahi is the delightful aroma that they add to the rice. The most common herbs in Sabzi Polo are coriander, parsley, dill, and leek, used fresh and dried. Some people add a little fenugreek to their herbal rice to give it more flavor. Also, in traditional Persian medicine, both rice and fish are cold temperaments, so they add these herbs, especially fenugreek, to keep the balance.
There are two main ways of preparing Iranian rice: Polo and Chelo. We can call Polo the masterpiece of Persian cuisine because it is fluffy, aromatic, and delicious. You can combine it with different ingredients to make amazing meals; Sabzi Polo ba Mahi is only one of them.
The perfect kind of rice for this dish is Persian rice which is produced in the north of Iran. You can also use Bastami or any rice that you like as an alternative. The only important thing that you need to know is that Asian rice has a different texture compared to Persian, so it is better not to use them for Sabzi Polo.
How to Make Sabzi Polo ba Mahi?
Now that you know the story behind this food and what we need to make it, it is time to get familiar with the ingredients in detail. Knowing the number and amount of each ingredient and how to combine them is the key to having a delicious, authentic, and aromatic Sabzi Polo ba Mahi.
- 4 fish fillets of your choice
- 1 smoked fish fillets (optional)
- Basmati Rice: 500 g
- 1 big Red Onion
- ½ cup of chopped parsley
- ½ cup of chopped dill
- ½ cup of chopped coriander
- ½ cup of chopped leek
- ¼ cup of chopped fenugreek
- Brewed saffron: 4 ts
- 5 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 1 lime
- Salt and pepper: as much as you like
Sabzi Polo ba Mahi Recipe
First of all, you need to make your Sabzi polo and let it cook while you are taking care of the fish.
You need to boil water in a pot, add salt, and your soaked rice to it. The rice should boil in water for about 10 minutes until you feel that it is getting soft. Another sign of knowing that the rice is ready is that the seeds are flowing on the surface. Then put a strainer on the sink and rinse the rice.
Add the chopped herbs to the rinsed rice and combine them well. Then put the pot back on the heat, pour some oil, and add rice to it. Pour ½ cup of brewed saffron, put the lid on, and wait for the extra water to evaporate. Then, put the smoked fish on top of the rice, use a Damkoni or wrap a piece of fabric on the lid to make it absorb the rice’s steam and put it on the pot. The rice will be ready in 30 minutes.
Adding the smoked fish is optional.
You can combine the rice with herbs, pour the brewed saffron into the rice cooker, and add the ingredients. The cooking process takes 30 minutes, and you will have an amazing Tahdig.
Cooking the Fish
There are different ways to make the fish. You can get a whole fish, open and clean its belly and fill it with lime and herbs. You can steam cook it or fry it. Frying the fish is the most popular form of preparing it, so we go with that.
Put a pan on the heat, pour some oil in it, and place the dried fish fillets when the oil is hot enough on the skin side. Then add some salt, pepper, and turmeric to it, and wait for 5 minutes (or more based on the thickness of the fillet.)
Note: If you want to cook the fish in Iranian style, you need to cook it by letting it be on the heat for around 15 minutes. However, you might overcook it, resulting in a dry and chewy fish.
Before turning the fish, you need to slice the lime and onion and add them to the pan. Instead of adding lime slices, you can add 1 tablespoon of lime juice to the fish. Then, the other side of the fillet needs 5 minutes as well. Finally, the fish is ready to be served.
When your rice and fish are ready, you need a tray to serve both the rice and fish. The lovely Sabzi Polo ba Mahi is ready, and you can eat it with pickled garlic, which makes the food taste a hundred times better. The secret behind the delightful taste of Iranian pickled garlic is that it has aged for 6 or 7 years and the taste is beyond imagination.
If you could not find old pickled garlic, 6 months one would do the job, but the taste will not be the same.