Tabekh literally means “cooking,” but it’s common usage is generally meant to refer to the sort of meals that remind you of home—comfort foods, such as rice and stew, that take more time and labor to prepare than grilled foods and salads.
We begin with all things stuffed: Levantine zucchinis, smaller and lighter in color than their Continental counterparts, are perfect little vehicles for seasoned rice, onion, and meat. Once stuffed, the zucchinis are slowly stewed in water infused with tomato paste. The same basic process is also applied to eggplants, tomatoes, cabbage and even intestines.
Everyone knows grape leaves, of course. In Lebanon, they're made with beef and allspice and lots of lemon juice.
Yakhneh means stew. There is so much variation and so many options when it comes to stews in Lebanon and very little can be said comprehensively about them. They’re made from all sorts of vegetables—okra, eggplant, tomatoes, spinach, long green beans—and about as many legumes and starches; rice, of course, but also potatoes, vermicelli, and broad beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc. Many stews are served with sides of rice that are themselves wonderfully complex, made with stocks and infused with roasted nuts and spices. Below are a few perennial favorites.
Frikeh is made with smoked green wheat. The wheat is picked early so it can withstand the smoking process without burning up, and is extremely rich in fiber but without much gluten, making it one of the healthiest cereals in the world. The dish that takes its name is cooked with chunks of meat and toasted cashews and pine nuts.
Mlukhiyah is an ancient dish and derives its name from ‘mlukiyah,’ which means royal, and the likelihood is that the dish was so prized by ruling families it was forbidden to commoners. As further testament to its greatness, Al-Hakem Bi-amr Allah, the 6th Fatimid caliph, is said to have forbidden women from eating it, as well, for fear they would be tempted into licentiousness. In any case, the stew is made with jute leaves, along with some assortment of meat and starch, but the Lebanese distinction is that the jute leaves are used whole, which gives this thick, mucilaginous stew added texture.
Moughrabieh is a semolina-based couscous, but larger than couscous, and the stew that takes its name has chickpeas, pearl onions, cinnamon and was traditionally made with both lamb and chicken, though today you’re more likely to find only one or the other.
Loubyeh is a stew of long green beans with tomato and garlic, often eaten cold, while fasoulya is tomato-based but made with broad beans and is generally served hot.
Another dish eaten cold is hindbeh bil zayt; sautéed dandelion leaves in olive oil with garlic, parsley and caramelized onions.
Other classics include daoud bacha, meatballs in tomato sauce; yakhneh sbenikh, spinach with minced beef, onions, garlic and coriander, and toasted almonds or pine nuts, served with rice and vermicelli and lemon wedges, bemyeh, made with whole baby okra and tomatoes; and shish barrak, an unusual dish of tiny meat pastries served in deliciously spiced yogurt. The Armenian version of shish barrak features a sour cherry sauce. Finally, laban immo is lamb simmered in yogurt and seasoned with garlic and coriander.