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Welcome to ZeCooks, where Zehorit Heilicher shares the fantastic ways she teaches people how to enjoy good food with good company. Zehorit brings to the kitchen her Mediterranean roots, her passion for healthy and flavorful dishes and her love of people and storytelling. Teaching in the Twin cities for the past 10 years, she shares her appreciation for the way in which culture and history shape our food and the way we gather to eat it. Contact Zehorit

Gem #3: Jaffa Flea Market

Jaffa Clock tower

If you want to get a sense of Israel in one afternoon, stop at the Jaffa Flea Market: Shuk Ha’Pishpeshim. Jaffa throbs with the heart beat of Israel a mixture of old crumbling buildings and contemporary architecture, sharp, stylish boutiques along with crowded and dusty thrift stores, hoity galleries and schticky shops, fancy, white linen restaurants and falafel stands, synagogues and mosques – need I go on?? Just drive down the Tel Aviv beach promenade, heading south and follow the road to and around the clock tower (See above). Park (good luck!) and walk over to the east where the market awaits.

Jaffa side street apartment building with blooming Bougainvillea

My friend Jodi and her Chicago friend Laura came to Israel to volunteer on an IDF base, doing grunt work that I didn’t want to do while I was in mandatory service… Needless to say, they were both looking forward to the weekend and we decided to meet at the Jaffa Flea Market. Despite the throngs of people who filled the streets on Friday morning and the faulty phone service, we managed to find each other and embarked on our adventure. The market offers everything from the antiquated to the modern: copper pots, tarnished silver platters, Rugs from around the world and even – shell casings vases…

Copper pots

Shell Casing vases

Jodi honed her haggling skills and ended up buying a pair of beautiful earrings at less than half of the original cost. Laura, who collects thimbles, found a couple of antique ones with a Jewish star on them and I – as usual – shopped for my girls…

We had to make a stop for Laura’s daily dose of fresh pomegranate juice – seriously, who can resist these and why should they???

Fresh pomegranates await juicing

We ventured into the narrow isles of the market, where caftans and dresses hung over our heads. We haggled over jewelry and scarves, bought some Armenian ceramics and realized how late it was and how hungry we got…

The market’s covered isles.

There are so many choices for eating by the market from haute cuisine to vegetarian, to steaks and more. We chose to visit the famous Dr. Shakshooka, knows for its variations of this popular dish. Traditionally, Shakshooka is a rustic North African meal of eggs simmered in a flavorful tomato sauce. Mr. Shakshooka has variations with peppers, beef, Moroccan lamb sausage, eggplant and more. We opened with a chilly draft beer and the (almost) mandatory Hummus. It arrived with an enormous piece of traditional Israeli pan Challah, like the one from my childhood. Yum!

No words needed!

This is what I got: Shakshooka with Merguez – a spicy Moroccan lamb sausage. I have to admit that I was a satisfied member of the “clean plate club” that day!

Shakshooka with Merguez

Carrying our loot, full of good food and content with our day, we walked out of the market as shops started to close down for Shabbat and the Muezzin from the mosque was calling his prayer. What a great way to spend the day!

For a shakshooka recipe try these two sites:

  1. http://www.wildgreensandsardines.com/2012/10/shakshouka-with-harissa.html

  1. http://www.carascravings.com/2010/03/pps-shakshouka.html

Gem #2: A Spicy Life
Thursday Dec 19, 2013

No trip home is complete without a visit to my cousin’s Rami’s spice shop. Rami and I go a long way back - Though older than I; we grew up in the same small Yemenite community in Givat Olga. As a teenager I dated one of his closest friends and we spent some memorable time double dating. He went on to marry his girlfriend, Yehudit and I moved on to other boyfriends… Since I moved to Minnesota I look forward to stopping at his store to catch up and stock up on his goodies. This last visit I stopped by with my Mom and found Rami’s son, Hod, manning the store.

My mother, Orah and Hod: Partners in flavor

Colors and aromas overload my system as I walk in. Everywhere I turn my eyes encounter temptation: crates of plump and juicy dried fruit await tasting, sacks of grains, beans and rice line the wall, their mouths open for touching hands.

Plump golden raisins

Beans, peas and 2 of the several rice selections offered

Packaged snacks are stacked colorfully on shelves and boxes overflow with hard candy and chocolates from around the world. Rami roasts nuts on location: everything from sunflower seeds to pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds and lots more. Sometimes I get lucky and stop in at the right time. Nutty fragrance fills the street and Rami offers me samples: hot, crunchy and flavorful!


Raw nuts in bulk

The crowning glory of Rami’s store, however are his spices and the mixes he conjures, creating exotic colors and flavor profiles. Some of my favorites are the Yemenite soup mix and the Libyan Baharat (used in the Spiced Beef Spiral posted earlier). I always intend to get only a couple of things, but… you know…

Here is my loot!    

This small store serves the local community fresh ground spices, dry bulk goods and quality dried fruits. The turnover is rapid, the merchandise fresh and plentiful and the service friendly. Whether my mom and I want to make bean soup, date filling or rice pilaf with nuts and apricots – we know we can find it all there.

Thank you, Rami! Wish you were closer!!

Lentils, peas and beans, oh my!!

For this holiday season, here is a simple recipe for lamb chops featuring a spice rub that includes some of my favorite spices from Rami’s shop. Enjoy!!

Spiced Grilled Lamb Chops

Recipe By Zehorit Heilicher

Serves 6

2 racks lamb, about 2.5 pounds

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1-teaspoon ground turmeric

1-teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon paprika, ground

1/2-teaspoon hot pepper flakes

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

Heat grille or broiler.

Mix together garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, pepper flakes and olive oil in a medium bowl.

Pat the lamb dry with paper towel and then rub spice mixture evenly over both sides of lamb racks. Season racks with salt and pepper and let racks sit for 10 minutes.

Place rack on medium-high heat on grille (or under broiler) and cook for 4 minutes. Turn racks over and cook for 4 minutes longer. Use an instant read thermometer: Medium -rare is between 130-140F, 140-150F is medium.

Let racks rest for 5 minutes, covered. Slice rack into chops at the joint and serve immediately.

For a Middle Eastern dinner serve with basmati rice and char-grilled tomatoes and onions.

More Than Milk and Honey -
Israeli Culinary Gems

This trip was to be a culinary adventure to delight the senses and the palate! On the itinerary: Artisanal cheeses and breads, organic produce, French patisseries, gourmet pizzas, boutique wineries, cooking workshops and more.  Surprisingly, my destination is not Tuscany or Provence, but Israel, which provides flavors and experience that are as delicious and authentic as the more famous destinations.

Every visit to Israel I am delighted by the culinary variety offered wherever I travel. This fall, during my latest visit, I am nibbling my way through the country, focusing on artisanal producers. I know, tough job, right?

Gem #1

First stop: Minhat Ha’aretz – where faith, business and ethics converge

On a sunny, warm day, my parents and I set out to find Minhat Ha’aretz; an artisanal flour mill owned by the Nov brothers. Hidden within the dusty and noisy Hadera industrial park, the entrance to the mill is easy to overlook. A narrow door, topped by a modest sign opens into a narrow and long space, where the aroma of fresh wheat is dominant and a film of flour covers all. Roee Nov, one of the brothers, welcomed us with a shy smile, adjusting the kippah on his head. He explained that the 3 brothers, who became orthodox through their own individual journey, share a love of the land of Israel and its produce, as well as a commitment to organic products.

An interest in healthy and affordable quality bread, reinforced by the belief in the quality and spiritual properties of Israeli wheat, led one of the brothers to start grinding his own wheat. The lucky family members and friends gratefully received the surplus –Yum! Before long, the flour’s reputation spread and the brothers expanded. The small mill that was producing 60-90 killos of flour a week (about 120-180 pounds) is now producing about 60 tons a month (about 120,000 pounds). Incredible in this small space with one mill… As one of the brothers was quoted in an interview: they basically just replaced the donkey pulling the grinding stone with an engine…

The mill offers other types of flour as well: millet, oat, quinoa, corn, chic peas, rice, spelt and more. My mother, the avid baker, carefully watched the process and together, we agreed to purchase some whole wheat and spelt flour. We were already dreaming of the loaves we would bake. Hearing our conversation, Roee wondered if we would like to taste Yemenite flat bread that his wife had prepared: Le’houh. My mother, who was very skeptical of anyone who is NOT Yemenite making descent Yemenite food, had to consent that indeed it was delicious. “Must be the quality of the wheat…” she relented.

My father inhaled the smell deeply as it brought early memories of his mother grinding wheat on stone in Yemen. Though placed in the midst of a bustling work zone, the sacks of grain, the aroma in the air and the quiet dignity of Roee, created a sense of moving back in time. That sense was enhanced when the wheat was poured into the mill, creating a soft mound at the top “…Thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.” (Song of Songs, Chapter 7, vs.3) my father, the retired bible teacher quoted and then exclaimed: “Here is the exact visual! Archaic and biblical, yet current!”

We headed home filled with a sense of wonder and appreciation of the simplicity, labor and dedication, which the Nov brothers devote to their enterprise. Needless to say, the loaves my mother and I made were astoundingly delicious, the grain’s freshness shining through. The commitment to fresh Israeli wheat, simple process and direct distribution, were all a great example of the type of Israeli food production I was seeking. What’s next? Spices, spices! Ground toasted and mixed at my cousin’s Rami’s spice shop.

Food Trucking it!

September 30, 2013

It was just a regular, boring Wednesday, but Fran had other plans for Betsy and I. Together, us three hardy Minnesota women braved the misty, chilly and grey day to venture downtown and explore the food truck scene. No sit down restaurant, or table service for us today, not even a bench! When we got there, Nicolette Avenue was lined up with EMT trucks; bomb squad equipment and horse-mounted police officers. Was the food that explosive? Dangerous? And where did the food trucks go?? We found out that Hennepin County emergency services were having an open house that day, so we trudged over to Marquette Avenue and were delighted to find a long line of food trucks, doing brisk business.

With so many trucks, such delicious choices, how are we to satisfy our curiosity and taste buds? So, we made a pact: we order, we bite, we SHARE! Yum!! But first – a strategy: we walk, we scope, we choose then chomp! Half way down our hungry stomachs protested the wait, while the aromas from Get Sauced crumbled the rest of our resolve to stick to the plan. We shared our first selection – an Asian chicken taco with a wasabi sauce, avocado and gingered slaw. The flavors were fresh, full and delicious. Betsy and I added some hot sauce and our mouths were happily burning… Not bad at all for a thrifty $7!

Asian Chicken Taco

Next stop was Hola Arepa, where we shared the Chimichuri Chicken Arepa. A crunchy corn pita-like pocket nestled inside it tender shredded chicken with a zesty chimichuri sauce. We all went through napkins like crazy as the sauce dripped down our chins (and onto Fran’s white shirt… oh, well, got to pay a price for flavor!) The girl at the window had great dimples, warm smiles and was gracious enough to take our garbage, since there was no garbage can in sight – what’s up with that??? 

MidNord truck was to be the lowest point in our experience. The Tostones (fried plantains) with the mango jalapeno sauce were yummy. However, the empanadas we chose, though creative, were disappointing. Betsy was telling us about a delicious macaroni and cheese pizza she had tried, so of course we had to try the macaroni and cheese empanada. Dry and flavorless macaroni wrapped in over fried dough was not what we expected. The empanada take on the Juicy Lucy followed the same sad path: bland, bland, bland. The best part were the sauces – though not enough to make up for the entrees…

Since our tummies were getting happily full we chose a last stop: The Moral Omnivore. There we shared 2 sliders: a Beef Wellington interpretation and a BLT interpretation with a crunchy fried tomato. Good meat flavor, soft buns, but again – no zing, kind of bland. The cost was a little higher, but still reasonable, in the $8-9 range.


Betsy & Fran considering the menu choices

Betsy, Fran and I unanimously voted Get Sauced as our number one experience for flavor, appeal and cost. We did try to save some room for dessert from A Cupcake Social, but by the time we were done, they had already packed up and left. I guess dessert was not in the cards for today…

Check out the fun for yourself before the weather determines life for us yet again. For info go to: http://roaminghunger.com/msp or http://www.visitsaintpaul.com/Food-Drink/Food-Trucks

Soups with Soul:

February 11, 2013

As this winter lengthens and the snow keeps piling on our deck and yard I turn to soups to provide comfort and warmth. In the last month I have made this soup for our family, for a soup exchange party put together by my creative friend, Fran, as well as our family’s annual Super Bowl party. It is always well received and heartily enjoyed.

Hope you like it as well!                     

Italian Style Butternut squash and Sage Soup

Serves 8

  3       pounds butternut squash - peeled, seeded &    chopped

  4       tablespoons olive oil

  3       tablespoons minced fresh sage

  2       tablespoons minced garlic

  1       large sweet onion -- sliced

  1       tablespoon kosher salt

  1       teaspoon ground black pepper

  8       cups chicken broth -- (or vegetable broth)

  1       tablespoon thyme -- minced

1/2     cup cream


  1       small French bread -- cut 1/2-inch thick

1/2     cup olive oil

1/4     cup Italian parsley -- minced

  2       tablespoons thyme -- minced

  1       tablespoon minced garlic

Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 400F. In a large rimmed baking sheet combine squash, sage, garlic, onion and olive oil. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper and roast in the oven until vegetables are caramelized and golden brown (about 45 minutes). 

Place all vegetables, including scrapings from the pan, into a soup pot. Add the chicken broth and the thyme and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Turn off heat and let soup cool a little.

While soup is simmering, heat remaining olive oil in a frying pan and sauté shallots with the minced thyme. Season them with salt and pepper.

In batches, puree soup in blender and place in pot. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning.

While soup is simmering make the croutons: On a rimmed baking sheet combine bread, olive oil, parsley, thyme and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently to combine. Place in a 375F oven and toast until golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Take the croutons out of oven and let them cool.

To serve: Ladle soup into a bowl drizzle with a little cream and top with the croutons. Serve hot.

Note: If you like soup thicker, add less broth, or instead - even add some apple sauce.

Reflections: Seattle

November 27, 2012

Children do grow up and leave home… But if you are lucky, they actually invite you to visit and stay with them. Lucky me! Got an invitation from my daughter, Leeyah, to visit her in Seattle. So, I packed my bags and set off for 5 days of college living. Yep. Stayed in her room at the house she shares with 4 other girlfriends!  Like her mother trained her she first fed me, as I left home at 5:30am (crazy, I know, but I wanted all the time I could get with my girl!)  

Portage Bay Café here we come! Great coffee (but of course –Seattle!) and incredible pancake/French toast bar (pile it on to your heart’s content!) My heat loving palate went for the Migas: A large flour tortilla stuffed with three chipotle-cumin scrambled eggs, Tillamook medium and sharp white cheddar, fresh basil, homemade salsa and sour cream. Served with fresh avocado salsa, and roasted potatoes.

Next on the agenda, of course, was feeding them! (One good turn deserves another…) Leeyah and I shopped, chopped, diced and cooked and here are the results! (Some recipes below)

The menu included roasted herbed gorgeous piece of salmon (we were in Seattle, after all), accompanied by an herbed yogurt sauce, orzo with feta, asparagus, mushrooms and basil, roasted butternut squash with sage and a salad of mixed greens with pears, red onions, cranberries and blue cheese in Dijon mustard vinaigrette. Brooke (roommate on the left) made a delicious berry pie for dessert. As we were eating, pictures and messages of our dinner (translation - “free food”) were circulating on Facebook and Twitter and people started showing up… More chairs were pulled to the small table and elbow to elbow I was welcomed by Leeyah’s circle of friends.

One of the highlights of this trip was visiting Bainbridge Island, where Leeyah’s boyfriend hails from and meeting his lovely family. After a tour of the quaint Island, courtesy of Casey, I proceeded to cook a Shabbat dinner at his home and ended that day with a relaxing glass of wine and lively conversation with his family.

Waiting for the ferry to Bainbridge Island

Fresh Produce at Pikes Place Market

Still on the agenda for the visit was exploring Pike Place Market, having coffee with Cousin Sheryl and her 2 great kids, as well as eating at the Dahlia Lounge downtown.

Fresh Fish at Pikes Place Market

Check out the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook by Tom Douglas – the doughnuts (more like beignets) were amazing!

Great long weekend in Seattle with my daughter: experiencing the life she has built for herself, making new friends, visiting with family and of course – great food!!

Seattle Salmon –

Quick Oven Roasted Salmon

Serves 6

2 pounds salmon fillet - skin on
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregino
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


1 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced oregano - (fresh or dried)
1 teaspoon minced dill - (fresh or dried)

Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 400F. Place the salmon fillet on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet, skin down.

Pour olive oil over fillet, sprinkle the seasoning (except the lemon juice) over and rub into flesh all over the fillet.

Roast the salmon in the oven for 10-15 minutes according to preference. Take out of the oven and drizzle the lemon juice over the hot fillet. Serve immediately.

While fish is roasting, whisk together all sauce ingredients, until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Serve with fish.

End post.

This Week's Fresh Idea!

Ethnic diversity on Rosh Hashanah

My Rosh Hashanah table for the Jewish New Year is rarely Midwestern, nor does it reflect our local Minnesotan culture (that is, except for our favorite Honey Crisp apples…). This year our culinary travels took us even farther, all the way to Morocco in North Africa and Bukhara in Western Asia. As the Minnesota fall made its customary abrupt appearance, I was craving the spicy flavors of my childhood memories. My neighborhood in Israel was rich with families of diverse ethnic origins: Morocco, Libya, Russia, Iraq and more. During this period of High Holy Days, the street air was perfumed with tempting aromas from every home.

So, to alleviate my longing and homesickness, I set out to replicate and update two of my favorite dishes: Ch’raimee; a Moroccan fish with tomato, cilantro and cumin and beef in puff pastry spiced with Baharat; a spice mix of warm spices, used to season beef dishes. During a podcast at the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market the morning of the holiday, I was asked about these dishes and I was happy to share. (http://www.mplsfarmersmarket.com/broadcast/Fresh-and-Local-September16.mp3)

That night, our guests asked about the menu, sampled the dishes and even came back for seconds – all in all, a success! Hope you will be adventurous, try these and share the results with me!

Spiced beef in puff pastry

Serves 8                    

2       tablespoons olive oil

1       large onion -- minced 

2       pounds ground beef

1/2   cup pine nuts

2       tablespoons Baharat -- (See note)

1       package puff pastry -- (2 sheets)

1/4   cup flour -- (for rolling the puff pastry)

  1     large egg -- whisked for egg wash

  1     tablespoon sesame seeds

Mushroom sauce -- (See additional recipe below)

Salt and pepper

In a large 12" sauté pan heat olive oil on medium high, add onion and cook, stirring occasionally until translucent. Add the beef and sauté, breaking down the meat into small pieces (a potato masher works well).

Season the beef with the Baharat spice mix, salt and pepper and then add the pine nuts. Cook the meat until no pink is left and the pine nuts are shiny and a slightly browned, 5-7 more minutes. Set beef aside and cool completely. The beef mixture can be made up to 2 days in advance to this point.

Heat the oven to 375F and lightly oil a 9X13" pan or a 10" spring form cake pan. Sprinkle work surface with some flour and roll the dough to a 12x18" rectangle. Cut rectangle into 2 strips 6x18" and set each with the long side facing you. Place about 1.5 cup of the cooled beef mixture in the middle of the dough, brush the top end of the dough with the egg and then roll the dough, sealing the beef into the long roll, by overlapping the egg washed dough with the opposite side of the dough. Place the roll in the greased pan and repeat with the rest of the dough and the beef, coiling the dough around to create a spiral.

Brush the top of the spiral with egg wash and sprinkle the sesame on top. Bake in the hot oven for 25-30 minutes, until the puff pastry is golden brown and the juices are bubbling.

Serve with the mushroom sauce, slicing the spiral as you would slice a cake.

Note: Baharat: Typical ingredients of Baharat may include: Allspice, Black peppercorns, Cardamom seeds, Cassia bark, Cloves, Coriander seeds, Cumin seeds, Nutmeg, Dried red chili peppers or paprika, sometimes cumin as well. Baharat can be found at Bill’s Imports and at Penzey’s.


Mushroom Sauce

Serves 8

  2    tablespoons olive oil

  1    large onion -- minced fine

  1    tablespoon minced garlic

  2    pounds mushrooms -- cleaned and sliced

  2    teaspoons minced fresh thyme

  3    tablespoons all-purpose flour

  1    cup white wine

  2    cups beef stock

1/2   cup minced Italian parsley

Salt and pepper

In a large 12" sauté pan heat olive oil, add onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic, thyme and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and then cook until mushrooms give off most of their liquid.

Add the flour and stir to cook the flour for about 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and stock, whisking vigorously to prevent lumps from forming. Bring mixture to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer the sauce for 7-10 minutes, until thickened. taste the sauce and adjust salt and pepper if needed.

Turn off the heat and stir in the minced Italian parsley. Serve immediately.


Red Sea Tilapia

Serves 6

  6     medium Tilapia fillets -- (Halibut, sword fish, or any other firm flesh fish would work)

  3     tablespoons olive oil

  1     medium onion -- chopped

  2     tablespoons chopped garlic

  28   ounces crushed tomatoes

  2     small jalapeno -- minced fine

  2     teaspoons ground cumin

  1     teaspoon paprika

  1     cup vegetable broth -- or chicken stock

1/2   cup chopped cilantro -- or Italian parsley

Heat the oven to 375F.

Rinse fillets and pat dry, then season with salt & pepper.

Heat olive oil in oven proof skillet sauté onion in the oil until golden, yet not browned. Add garlic and sauté it until fragrant, then add tomatoes, pepper (if using), cumin and paprika and stir well. Bring to a boil and then add stock. Simmer the sauce, uncovered for 5-7 minutes. Sprinkle half of cilantro over tomato sauce and stir in very gently.

Gently place fish in skillet on top of the tomato sauce, preferably in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes until fish is golden and flaky.

Before serving, sprinkle remaining cilantro over fish.

Fish can be served hot, at room temperature.

Upcoming Classes

Hot Soups for Cold Minnesota Nights 

ENGAGE Workshop
Saint Paul Talmud Torah
Saturday Feb 8, 7:30pm – 9:30pm
To register contact Beth Friend


Temple of Aaron, St. Paul
Sunday March 2, 10am - 12pm
To register contact Susan Tervola


Nordic Ware Outlet Store
Tuesday March 18, 7pm – 9pm
To register call 952-924-9672

Mediterranean Spring 

Cooks of Crocus Hill, Edina
Wednesday March 19, 6pm – 9pm
To register: Click here


Cooks of Crocus Hill, Edina
Sunday April 13, 1pm – 4pm
To register: Click here

Market Fresh

Nordic Ware Outlet Store
Tuesday August 5 or 19, 7pm – 9pm
To register call 952-924-9672


Nordic Ware Outlet Store
Tuesday October 21, 7pm – 9pm
To register call 952-924-9672

Holiday Menu

Nordic Ware Outlet Store
Tuesday Dec 2, 7pm – 9pm
To register call 952-924-9672

In addition to her regularly scheduled classes, Zehorit can provide personalized dining experiences in a number of ways:

  • In-home classes
  • Private dining experiences
  • Cooking and dinning
  • Menu planning

Contact Zehorit for your free private consultation to explore ways to bring an educational and fun food experience to you and your guests.

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