Go to any Persian restaurant, or to the home of an Iranian family for dinner, and you will be served a plate at the beginning of the meal that is alive with color and the aroma of herbs. This platter of “edible herbs,” or in Persian, the sabzi khordan plate, is made up of fresh herbs, bread, cheese, and a few other doodads, and it’s a no-fail party food that couldn’t be easier to prepare.
The edible herb platter will be on the table throughout the meal, or, it can be a meal in itself. All of the fresh elements on the plate look beautiful together, but this isn’t fancy food, and in fact everything on it should be eaten with your hands.
The herb platter is made up of a few different elements. First and foremost, there are the herbs, which are served whole. You can use any herbs you like, as long as they taste good raw. Good choices include mint, basil, parsley, cilantro, and tarragon. Fresh scallions are traditionally served stem-on, but I like to snip off the stems and slice the scallions in half lengthwise.
Bread is an essential part of the platter, as it’s what allows you to pick up everything else and bring it to your mouth! Lavash bread is a perfect choice, as it’s pliable and can be torn into small pieces. Pita bread works well, too. Because it’s hard to fit everything on one platter, especially if you’re feeding a lot of people, I like to put the bread in a separate bowl or basket.
Rich, salty feta cheese adds an element of fat and flavor to the platter. You can simply take it out of the packaging and place it on the platter with a knife for slicing. For a heavenly taste, take a minute to toast a tablespoon of whole spices like coriander, cumin, and black peppercorns, combine them with a few tablespoons of olive oil, and pour this aromatic mixture over the cheese.
Other traditional elements of the sabzi khordan platter include bright red radishes, which I like to cut in quarters, and walnuts that have been soaked in warm, salty water. The purpose of soaking the walnuts is to leach out the bitterness and make them more digestible. To do this, place the walnuts in a bowl, and pour in boiling water to cover. Sprinkle in salt until the water tastes briny, then soak for anywhere from an hour to overnight. When you’re ready to serve, drain the walnuts.
You can round out the platter with foods like olives, hard sausage, hummus, and colorful sprouts. Lay out your edible herb platter along with a stack of small plates and napkins, and you’re all set. Now that you’ve gotten all of the elements together, you’re ready to eat, so tear off a piece of bread and spread it with some feta, then tuck in a pinch of herbs, some walnuts, and a radish or two, then fold and eat! You can serve the platter alongside other food, or serve it on its own.
Louisa Shafia is the author, most recently, of The New Persian Kitchen, a book of healthy Mediterranean and Silk Road-inspired recipes. See Louisa’s cooking videos and her schedule of upcoming events at lucidfood.com.