Sabzi is one of the great characteristics of Persian cuisine. It refers to the leafy part part of the herb and is used both in Khoreshts for flavour and bulk and as an accompliment to meals. Some herbs are easy to grow yourself such as mint, and coriander and there’s nothing more satisfying than picking herbs fresh from your own garden. However I haven’t had much luck with tarragon. Sabzi is always best fresh but this isn’t always possible and it’s difficult to produce enough to meet all your needs. A great alternative is sabzi khoshk or dried herbs and most of these are easily sourced and available in nearly all supermarkets. When using dried herbs its advisable to soak the herbs before use to ensure maximum flavour.
Parsely or jafari. You may know that parsley is native almost everywhere and has been used by the ancient Greek and Romans. What you may not know is that Persians have cultivated and used parsley in a wide variety of dishes for thousands of years. Parsley is part of many herb mixes of Persian cooking such as Sabzi polow, Ghormeh sabzi, Aash, Karafs and Kuku herb mixes.
Dill weed or shivid is extremely aromatic and is mainly used for food seasoning in many countries around the world. Persians, however, have used dill weed in a unique way in rice dishes such as shevid polou (Dill and rice mix) and Baghali polou (broad beans and rice). It is also mixed with other herbs as part of preparing other delightful meals like sabzi polou (a rice dish), khoreshte karafs (a stew) and kuku e sabzi (vegetable omlette).
Coriander or Gheshniz
Corriander is native to Iran and easily found in any supermarket across the globe. It’s also easy to grow here in the UK. It has a distinctive musky smell and is used in salads, and for Ghishniz polou and kuku. No persian kitchen would be without it is some form, either fresh or dried.
Fenugreek or shanbalileh is one of the world’s oldest and widely used medicinal herbs. It has a variety of attributes and is used for increasing libido in men and as an aphrodisiac generally. The seeds have to be ground and can be used to make tea, for fevers, to reduce menstrual pain and treat skin infection. The leaf of the fenugreek is high in iron and helps with respiratory and sinus problems. In persian cooking it’s used in ash ( soup) and in khoreshts such as ghormeeh sabzi.
Tarragon or tarhoon is again heralded for having many health benefits. Its used for the relief of stomach cramps, toothache, menstrual pain and as a cure for bile and high blood pressure. It’s a vital herb in the Persian diet, used on its own or with pickles torshi and in khoreshts. It has a peppery aniseed taste and is grown easily in Iran although I haven’t had much success growing this myself.
Mint or na’nar is another vital. This is very easily grown yourself and spreads rapidly so once you start to grow it, you shouldn’t ever have a problem with quantity again. Used in a variety of dishes from must o khiar a yoghurt and cucumber side dish to chai tea. Its eaten with meals on its own, mixed into salads, and as one of the many herbs needed in khoreshts. You can also buy ab na’nar or mint water. I always keep a bottle at hand as its great for stomach ailments and indigestion. I have found it really useful if by some accident I have eaten something glutenous…. it helps relieve the cramps.
Spinach or esfenaj is found just about every where and is easily bought from your local supermarket. High in Iron its a great herb or vegetable and is used in many persian dishes from soups to omelets. Spinach is rich in beta carotene, so helps your eye sight and in potassium which helps control blood pressure.
Tareh or leek chives. These are difficult to find outside of Iran however I have grown Tareh in my garden and its very successful here in the UK. Tareh can be substituted with chives or the green stems of spring onions. Tareh is mainly used in Khoreshte Ghormeh sabzi, Aash or for Dolmehs (stuffed vegetables).
Piazchez or green onions or scallions are from the onion family and similar to spring onions . They are rich in Vitamin K and are thought to help reduce the risk of cancer. Piazchez are commonly used in combination with other herbs to make up sabzi khordan ( see below).
Taropche or radish are root vegetables and pink in colour. They can be eaten raw and a nice crunchy addition to any salad. Persian taropche have a distinctive flavour which is slightly more peppery than european varieties. Taropche are used in combination with other herbs for sabzi khordan. You can also use taropche in Salad Olivieh and Aash. Its rich in vitamin C.
Sabzi khordan or fresh greens is usually served with most meals. It can be made up from what ever is in season and available to you. Commonly it would consist of taropche or radishes, tarhan or tarragon, jafari or flat leaved parsley, ghishniz or coriander, na’nar or mint, water cress, paizchez or scallions, tareh or chives and rayhan or basil. Its often served as a starter in Persian restaurants along with gurdu or walnuts feta, soft goats cheese.