By SARA ARTHURS
Before Jihad Shaheen and his brother, Mo, opened Cedar Valley Cafe, the brothers hadn’t done restaurant cooking before. They now have a successful restaurant that, in March, will celebrate 10 years of serving Lebanese food to Findlay diners on Tiffin Avenue.
Another brother, Jamal, had a restaurant in Toledo called the Grape Leaf Diner. Jihad and Mo looked there for inspiration and were trained by Jamal, who also shared his recipes.
Jihad said the process was “extremely challenging” at first. He learned the recipes and “how to perfect the hummus,” though he acknowledged this is more Mo’s specialty than his own.
“Hummus is very, very popular” at the restaurant, along with kebabs and shawarma, he said.
The secret to hummus? “Make it original,” and don’t add other flavors, he said: “Once you add anything to it, it’s no longer hummus.”
He said he saw chocolate hummus advertised on television. “It probably tasted good, but it’s no longer hummus.” This goes for adding garlic or crushed pepper, too, Jihad said.
Jade Bolen, manager/cook/server at Cedar Valley, said the secret to the restaurant’s success is “good food,” adding that interest has spread through word of mouth. Some people come in just for a small hummus and soup, others for lamb gyros.
“Everything’s handmade here,” she said.
Jihad said this differs from a chain restaurant which would use more prepackaged or precooked foods.
Bolen’s career at the restaurant started as a customer. She loved the food at Cedar Valley and called in regularly to order the chicken shawarma lunch with rice and Greek salad. When she saw a sign that the restaurant was hiring, she applied. She started working out front, and as a server, and is now a cook and the manager.
She’d never cooked professionally before, but said she cooks “every day at home.”
But there are some differences. Cooking on the grill at the restaurant is different from grilling at home because the “meat is completely different,” and is cooked on skewers that must be rotated.
Jihad noted that they do have burgers on the menu — “Our burgers are very good,” Bolen said — but he encouraged people to try something new.
And, while northwest Ohio has a reputation for being conservative about food choices, the “majority” are open to Lebanese food, he said.
And, Bolen said, if you want to know what something is on the menu, just ask. She said people may see chicken shawarma on the menu and think “Oh, that sounds scary.” But “It’s just thinly cut chicken,” marinated.
Her advice for a home cook? “Don’t be afraid to explore.”
And, Jihad said, “don’t be afraid if you burn it the first time.” You’ll get it the second time.
Jihad said the restaurant has had a “very, very tremendous” reaction from the Findlay community. He said there are “a lot” of regulars whom he tends to know by face, rather than name.
Jihad came to the United States at age 19, and grew up in Lebanon eating food like this. He said his favorites are beef kebabs and fried kibbe.
Some of his customers, however, are particularly interested in vegetarian dishes, such as the grape leaves and vegetable ghallaba.
Jihad said Mulukhiyah, the recipe he shared with Courier readers, is “an awesome dish” but is not available on Cedar Valley’s menu. Different versions of the recipe exist in different countries.
What he shared is what he would make at home, served with rice and onions.
Mulukhiyah is the leaves of Corchorus olitorius, commonly known as Jew’s mallow, Nalta jute or tossa jute.
It is used as a vegetable and is popular in Middle Eastern, East African and North African countries, though the recipe changes from one country to another. It is available in a fresh plant form or sun-dried form.
Mulukhiyah can be purchased from any Middle Eastern store in Toledo or Dearborn, Michigan.
4 handfuls Mulukhiyah leaves
1 boneless chicken breast or thigh
1 medium onion, cut into fourths
1 cinnamon stick or dash of cinnamon
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 handful cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons minced garlic
1 lemon wedge
4 ounces lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces cider vinegar
Boil chicken for 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from pot and cut/pull chicken into pieces. Drain the broth into a deep pan and save broth.
Soak Mulukhiyah in hot water until soft. Remove from water and squeeze dry.
Heat 1 tablespoon cooking oil and add a handful of chopped cilantro and garlic. Saute with squeezed Mulukhiyah leaves.
Add 1 wedge of lemon, chicken, 1 teaspoon of salt and broth as needed. Cook for 15 minutes.
Mix diced onion, cider vinegar, lemon juice and a touch of paprika and use to top chicken mixture.
House Specialties runs the last Friday of every month and features a restaurant chef, a home chef or a commercial cook sharing one of their most sought-after recipes. To suggest a restaurant dish or to volunteer as an individual to be featured, email Send an E-mail to life.