Soft herb salad

Soft herb salad

Sabzi khordan

Mark Roper

Iranians have an entirely different relationship with herbs than we do in the West. Not only do herbs feature heavily in stews and soups, but almost every Persian meal begins with a basket of fresh, unadorned herbs that are eaten with tangy, feta-like white cheese and flaps of soft flatbread. It’s a totally addictive way of starting a meal, as the fresh, vital flavours sharpen the appetite and you can’t help but feel somewhat virtuous, munching on all that greenery.

Needless to say, this approach to eating depends entirely on the freshness and quality of the herbs – straight from the garden is best! Failing that, try to buy herbs in big, hearty bunches from the market or a good greengrocer, and avoid at all costs the mean little plastic packets on offer on most supermarket shelves.

The leaves or sprigs of fresh herbs should be picked from their stalks (and any manky leaves discarded), then gently washed and left to soak in a bowl of cold water for 20 minutes or so to allow any sand or dirt to sink to the bottom. They should then be allowed to drain and air-dry in a colander before being wrapped loosely in a clean tea towel and stored in the fridge. Prepared this way herbs should keep for around a week.

This is hardly a recipe but, rather, a list of popular herbs that feature regularly on the Persian table, depending on the season. We’ve included two of the more unusual ones –costmary and summer savory – for those who are keen gardeners as it’s simple enough to grow them yourself.

The idea is to choose four or five herbs that you fancy, and toss them together on a serving platter or in a basket. You’ll need about a cup of herbs per person to be really Iranian – and you’ll be surprised how quickly you want to eat more and more of them. At first it may seem strange to eat this sort of salad without a dressing, but doing so really allows the flavour of each herb to shine through.


Quantity Ingredient
baby beetroot leaves
flat-leaf parsley
french tarragon
spring onions
summer savory
turnip leaves
fresh white cheese, to serve
warm flatbread, to serve


  1. Serve a platter of herbs with your favourite fresh white cheese – a creamy feta is ideal – and a pile of warm flatbread, so that everyone can wrap or roll to their heart’s content.
Middle Eastern
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