A Persian Love Affair with Herbs: Salmon and Cilantro Stew with Tamarind (Ghalieh Mahi)

Fresh herbs are always used in Persian cooking, including this salmon and cilantro stew, known as Ghalieh Mahi.

Persian Salmon and Cilantro Stew with Tamarind (Ghalieh Mahi) by FamilySpice.com

You are probably seeing a lot of green on the world-wide-web this time of year. And frankly, it’s not just for St. Patrick’s Day where everyone is Irish once a year. There is actually another holiday that was green before St. Patty’s Day: It’s the Persian New Year, or Noruz, the first day of Spring. This year it lands on March 20th.

I have already given you all a history lesson of this beautiful celebration (you can read it here) that dates back thousands of years. No, this post is something different.

To celebrate the rebirth of nature, the beginning of spring, Persians love to cook with anything green. And this typically means fresh herbs.

And not just one type of herb, either.

In one Persian dish, you could have as many as 5 different herbs. You would think with all of this flavor they would be competing with each other, but they do not. They actually compliment each other very well.

The traditional Persian meal for Noruz is Sabzi Pollo ba Mahi, or Rice with Greens (aka “herbs”) and Fish. When I make Sabzi Pollo, I like to use dill, parsley, cilantro, green onions and spinach (not an herb, but it’s green and adds some nutritional punch).

Persian Herb Quiche (Kookoo Sabzi) by FamilySpice.com

Another traditional meal served to celebrate the new year is Kookoo-yeh Sabzi, or Herb Quiche/Frittata. This crustless egg quiche uses the same greens as Sabzi Pollo, but also includes fenugreek and saffron.

Back in February, I was visiting family in Northern California. One of cousins served a new “green” dish that my husband and I had not had before. It was Salmon & Cilantro Stew (Ghalieh Mahi).

Fresh parsley and mint

Although not a traditional for the Persian New Year, this is another herb-packed stew. Similar to Ghormeh Sabzi, an herb stew made with lamb or beef, but different proportions.

Ghalieh Mahi originates from northern Iran, the Caspian Sea region where fresh fish (and caviar!) is abundant. Many dishes from this region use a lot of garlic and are sour. Apparently, you do not smell the garlic as much in this humid area and the sourness does not affect one’s constitution as harshly, either.

Prep for Salmon & Cilantro Stew (Ghalieh Mahi)

Ghalieh Mahi is made primarily with cilantro, but parsley, green onions and fenugreek are also used. I used about 4 large cloves of garlic, but you can easily add or subtract the amount of garlic you want to taste.

Onions are first sautéed with turmeric and then the herbs are added.

Prep for Salmon & Cilantro Stew (Ghalieh Mahi)

Persian stews are typically “soured” with the use of lemon juice or dried limes. Ghalieh Mahi uses tamarind, which has a slightly different sourness to it. I used a combination of tamarind and lemon juice, per my lemon-loving-husband’s request, and it turned out amazing. A little tomato paste gives the stew a bit of body.

Prep for Salmon & Cilantro Stew (Ghalieh Mahi)

The stew can be made days ahead, and actually is preferred this way so the flavors can melt together even more. You add the salmon to the stew 20 minutes prior to serving, to keep the fish fluffy and not over-cooked.

Prep for Salmon & Cilantro Stew (Ghalieh Mahi)

No matter what holiday you choose to celebrate this March, make it a green one!

Persian Salmon and Cilantro Stew (Ghalieh Mahi) by FamilySpice.com

Salmon & Cilantro Stew (Ghalieh Mahi)

This Persian stew is popular in Northern Iran, near the Caspian Sea. Filled with fresh herbs, like cilantro and parsley, and lots of garlic, this stew is served over a plate of basmati sauce. Recipe by Laura Bashar of Family Spice


  • 9 oz cilantro, fresh, stems removed
  • 3 oz parsley, American, stems removed
  • 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 tsp turmeric, dried
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 TBS fenugreek, dried
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 2 cup water
  • 2 TBS lemon juice
  • 2 TBS tamarind paste
  • 1 lb salmon, cut into 4 equal pieces


  1. In a food processor purée until finely chopped:
    • 9 oz cilantro, fresh , stems removed
    • 3 oz parsley, American , stems removed
  2. In large pot over medium-high heat add:
    • 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
  3. When oil is hot, add in:
    • 1/2 onion , diced
  4. Cook until onions start to soften and reduce heat to medium-low.
  5. Continue cooking for 10 mins then stir in:
    • 1 tsp turmeric, dried
    • 4 large garlic cloves , minced
  6. Cook garlic for 5 mins then stir in chopped herbs.
  7. Cook for 5 min and stir in:
    • 2 TBS fenugreek, dried
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/4 tsp black pepper, ground
  8. Cook for an additional 10 mins then add:
    • 2 cup water
    • 2 TBS lemon juice
    • 2 TBS tamarind paste
  9. Cover pot, bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 2 hours.
  10. At this point, the stew can be stored in a refrigerator until needed. The longer it sits, the more flavor the mixture will have.
  11. About 20 mins prior to serving, submerge into the hot stew:
    • 1 lb salmon , cut into 4 equal pieces
  12. Cover pot and heat over medium-low heat until fish is done, 20 mins.
  13. Serve hot.


Serving Suggestions: Serve with basmati rice.

Cooking Tips: This dish is typically spicy. If you like, add 1/4-1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper.

Prep Time:

Yield: Serves 4

Cook Time:

Ghalieh Mahi detail

************ UPDATE February 23, 2015 ************

I do not consider myself to be a controversial blogger. I write about food, my family and my Persian culture. I am very respectful to my readers and to others. I find it ludicrious that one statement has caused some mean and nasty people to overreact. Anyone who knows me, knows that my friends could easily represent the United Nations. I have friends from all nationalities, all religions and all political parties. And so do my kids. To accuse me of degrading the Irish culture is beyond absurd.

Norouz, the Persian holiday celebrating the first day of Spring is over 3000 years old, dating back to the Zorastrian times.

According to Wikipedia:

Saint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick (Irish: Lá Fhéile Pádraig, “the Day of the Festival of Patrick”), is a cultural and religious celebration occurring annually on 17 March, the death date of the most commonly-recognised patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461).

I honestly don’t care which holiday is older or came first. The purpose of this post is to remind everyone that there is another “Green Holiday” and to talk about my salmon recipe.

I have published two negative comments regarding this post, as I am not ashamed of what I wrote. I did take out one word (“silly”) from my post, which I think is funny that instilled such negative comments. But other than that, I stand by what I wrote. Any future negative comments will NOT be published. I do not partake in childish arguments.

It’s time for everyone to chillax, drink some green beer, and not be so defensive or searching insults that just are not there.

Thank you,


EBOOK - Norouz: The Traditions and Food of the Persian New Year

Want to learn more about Norouz and the Persian New Year? I have put together an ebook that has all the history, traditions and recipes of Norouz, in a beautifully photographed ebook. And it’s only $1.99! Learn more here!

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13 Responses to A Persian Love Affair with Herbs: Salmon and Cilantro Stew with Tamarind (Ghalieh Mahi)

  1. Great post Laura! I have to say I’m not too familiar with herbs. Compared to other cuisines, we don’t really put herbs in traditional Japanese food (we have different kinds). But I enjoy all kinds of herbs and hope not to be shy on using them (sometimes I’m not sure how I should combine multiple herbs). Your herb fritatta looks amazing!!!! Have a great weekend!

    • Laura at #

      Nami, you are such a talented cook, I’m sure you’ll come up with something fabulous!

  2. Maureen at #

    Love herbs but I have never tried a herb quiche fritatta. How wonderful is this??

    I’ve got the herbs in pots and I’ve got eggs – I’m in business!

    • Laura at #

      I hope you like it! I really enjoy it all year round, and not just for Spring.

  3. Kocinera at #

    What a great holiday! I love that it incorporates so many yummy, herby dishes!

    • Laura at #

      Thank you! I find myself using fresh herbs in everything I prepare. So aromatic and delicious!

  4. The fritatta looks wonderful! I just made one on Sunday…should have added more herbs since my garden is bursting 🙂 And the stew looks fantastic as well 🙂

    • Laura at #

      Aren’t fritattas the best?! I really should make them more often!

  5. I just love this recipe Laura. The only change I will make when I make this tomorrow is to sear my salmon so it is medium rare and serve it atop a puddle of this delicious and healthful Ghalieh Mahi.

  6. amee at #

    I love love love cooking with herbs. Your pics are beautiful. I am inspired to create something vegetarian from this idea! Thanks!

  7. Guest at #

    “And frankly, it’s not just for that silly Shamrock Day where everyone is Irish once a year.”

    There isn’t really any need to belittle another person’s heritage/beliefs to show your own in better light. Very unprofessional and offensive. Just because many people abuse the concept of St. Patrick’s day in the US, it does not mean that there are not more people worldwide who actually take this religious holiday very seriously.

    • Laura at #

      I’m sorry you were offended, as that was not my intention. But, considering how many thousands of people who have read this post and were not offended, perhaps you read something in my post that just wasn’t there.

  8. Darren at #

    There is no need to denigrate one culture to highlight another. As a reader in Ireland, where 17’th of March (St.Patrick’s or Paddy’s Day not Patty!) is our National Holiday and where elements of the day long predate Patrick (Irish Culture can match most in it’s antiquity).

    Your’s Sincerely
    Born and Bred Citizen of Ireland

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