Herby Rice with Saffron Vegetables (Sabzi Pulao)

This herb-laden, golde -baked rice dish hails from Persia and comes to us via Peckham thanks to Sally Butcher’s Veggiestan cookbook , now republished in a special 10th anniversary edition. The crisp, saffron-tinted surface of the rice, known as tahdik, is enormously prized by Persians and definitely the star of the show. The generous volumes of parsley, coriander, dill and chives are a popular addition to many dishes, collectively identified by the term sabzi. Accompanying the herbed rice is a vegetable and bean mix that is good enough to enjoy on its own, but is also the perfect foil to the rice.

Herby rice with saffron vegetables

Yuki Sugiura

Check out our full review of Veggiestan to find out more about this delicious cookbook full of recipes from across the Middle East. Our reviewer Nicky loved this dish, not least for the straightforward instructions that ensured she achieved the signature tahdik crunch.

Herby Rice with Saffron Vegetables (Sabzi Pulao)

This is one of the four great green dishes of Iran, stiff with so many herbs that they really do look green. Sabzi is the generic word for herbs in Farsi, and adding its name to the dish you are to prepare (in this case rice, or pulao) denotes a particular mix and proportion of herbs – in this case, parsley, coriander, dill and chives. You can buy bags of ready washed, chopped and dried herbs in Middle Eastern supermarkets – but the fresh herbs for this dish are pretty easy to find. Sabzi pulao is traditionally served with smoked fish, and is a great favourite at the Persian New Year, Nowrooz. When you are making this, don’t forget that it is the rice which is the star here – the saffron veggies are just the garnish. You can substitute the herbs and chives for 1 bag of dried sabzi pulao mix.
Servings 4 servings
Author Sally Butcher


For the rice:

  • 4 measures (150 g/ 5½oz/ ¾ cup per measure) basmati rice
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch each of parsley, coriander and dill + either 2 bunches chives or 2 leeks (or substitute the herbs and chives for 1 bag of dried sabzi pulao mix)
  • 1-2 teaspoons turmeric
  • oil or vegetable ghee
  • salt

For the saffron veg:

  • knob of butter (50g/ 1¾oz/ scant ½ stick)
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 courgettes, scrubbed and chunked
  • tablespoons capers, chopped
  • 4 tomatoes, chunked
  • 1 bag/bunch watercress,washed and roughly chopped
  • 1 can (400g/ 14oz) butter beans
  • ¼ teaspoon ground saffron
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • salt and black pepper


  • Trim, soak, drain and chop the herbs (or, if using the dried variety, simply soak and then squeeze out the excess moisture). Heat some oil in a frying pan, and fry the garlic without allowing it to turn brown. Toss in the herbs, a handful at a time, stirring constantly. Fry the mixture for around 7 minutes to make sure that all the particles are coated and cooked.
  • Wash the rice and boil it for about 15 minutes; then drain and rinse it. Sizzle some oil in the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of rice, and let it fry until it starts to catch (stick and burn) and then layer the rest of the rice and fried herb mixture alternately on top. Make four or five ‘fumeroles’ through the rice with the handle of a wooden spoon.
  • Fit a cloth-covered lid on top, cook for 5 minutes on high, and then reduce the heat and allow to cook through for about 30 minutes. If you are using a rice cooker, wash your rice as usual and then add the garlic with the butter right at the beginning. Stir the herbs through the rice just at the end of the cooking process – the rice should end up looking quite green.
  • Melt some butter in a pan, and when sizzling throw in the onion, courgette and capers.
  • Fry them gently for around 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes. After a further 5 minutes add the watercress and butter beans. Steep the saffron in a very little boiling water, and then add the juice and rind of 1 unwaxed lemon. Pour this fragrant mixture over the vegetables, cover the pan and leave to simmer for a few minutes more. Season to taste.
  • Take your rice off the heat, run 2cm (¾in) of cold water into the sink and stand the pan in it for a few minutes – this will make the sticky ‘tahdik’ (see p.131) unstick a little and come out looking just so. Even if you are using a rice cooker, turning it off a few minutes before you turn it out aids the process. Turn the rice on to a large serving dish, and then crack the crust in one line through the middle. Pour the saffron vegetable mixture in a stripe along the length of the crack. Eat with fresh herbs, lashings of posh and piquant Persian pickles and some natural yoghurt.

Nicky served her finished dish with pickles and pomegranate yoghurt.

Herby rice with saffron vegetables

Nicky Bramley


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Kavey Eats received a review copy of Veggiestan by Sally Butcher from publisher Pavilion. Book photography by Yuki Sugiura. Our photography by Nicky Bramley. 

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2 Comments to "Herby Rice with Saffron Vegetables (Sabzi Pulao)"

  1. NickyB

    It’s written so delightfully. I do feel like I’d love to visit the shop for a good natter.


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