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9 Simple Cooking Tricks A Pro Restaurant Chef Swears By

Straight from award-winning chef, Mike Solomonov.

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James Beard Award*-winning chef Mike Solomonov knows how to turn simple grocery foods into mouthwatering dishes.

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It's the ethos behind his upcoming cookbook, Israeli Soul, after all. Out later this fall, the new book highlights Israeli street food and home cooking, and gives you the DL on how to make it in your own kitchen. We sat down with Mike — executive chef of Zahav and author of a previous James Beard Book of the Year — and asked him for his best tips on how to cook like a pro, without the fancy ingredients or equipment. Here are his best suggestions:

*Basically the Academy Awards of the restaurant world.

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1. Invest in a good, eight-inch cast iron skillet, and use it to cook EVERYTHING.

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And they don't have to be hand-me-downs that have been seasoned to perfection over six generations. You can braise meats, bake desserts, and make potato hashes, all in a simple, no-frills eight-inch pan. And its all-in-one utility also conceals its best feature: minimal clean up. "When I’m done cooking, I want to eat and be done," explains Solomonov.

2. Add flavor and texture to any dish with a compote.

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Matbucha (a spicy cooked tomato salad with Moroccan origins), for example, is a versatile dish that all home chefs should learn. You can "eat it by itself, spread it on bread, or dollop it on any grilled meat," says Solomonov. The slow-cooked version is especially worth the effort. Get the recipe here.

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3. For an elevated DIY salad dressing, just remember lemon, parsley, and olive oil.

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The big joke at Zahav, Solomonov's Philly-based Israeli restaurant, is that a dish could always use more of the above. Which makes sense, considering that many DIY dressings are simply a combination of an acid and a fat, like lemon and olive oil.

4. Invest in a slanted utility spoon to make all your dishes look like fancy, Michelin-starred meals.

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Utility spoons — or kitchen spoons that look like flattened table spoons — are a cook's secret weapon, and are perfect for flipping meat, saucing plates, picking up and placing single ingredients, and doing nifty things like creating the classic "wave" design on risotto, hummus, and other sauces, says Solomov. Get your own plating spoon here.

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5. Use tahini as a multi-purpose sauce.

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For the uninitiated, tehina (or tahini) is a sesame seed paste that can be used as a "dip for meat or bread or thinned out and used as a dressing," says Solomonov. It also holds really well with acidic ingredients and blends well with herbs or garlic.

6. For a delicious sandwich, try underrated ingredients like sautéed or fried vegetables, savory dressing, and fruit.

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The Sabich (an Israeli sandwich), for example, is easy to slap together, has amazing flavor, and is an underrated Israeli food, says Solomonov. To prepare, simply put together fried eggplant, hard boiled eggs, hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, and amba (pickled mango sauce) in a pita pocket. Get the recipe here.

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7. Get your kids to eat healthier by discreetly integrating veggies into their meals.

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For example, Solomonov says, "you can schnitzel (bread and lightly fry) anything," adding that he schnitzels eggplant and zucchini slices. He also suggests steaming rice with carrot juice or making fresh fruit smoothies and throwing in some baby carrots into the mix.

And most importantly, to truly acquaint your kids with whole foods and healthy kitchen habits, take them grocery shopping and let them lend you a hand in the kitchen whenever possible.

8. The secret to cooking like an actual professional line cook is time management.

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"You should always be one step ahead so you never have to double back [and fix your mistakes]," says Solomonov. In a home kitchen, you can put this strategy into practice simply by reading an entire recipe through before even starting it, so that, say, you can anticipate the fact that your casserole will need to cool for 30 minutes before serving (and that you should offer your dinner guests an appetizer or quick snack before you even start cooking).

9. And finally, to level up your cooking skills on a budget, learn how to cook vegetables in different ways!

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Just ask chef Mike, whose menu at Zahav consists of items like fried cauliflower, golden beets, and six different salads. "We take vegetable cooking really seriously," says Solomonov. "Proper salting, curing, and marinating," he says, can truly transform a random produce item into a delicious, flavor-rich meal — that won't feel alack in fancy cuts of meat or a heavy carb item.

Pre-order chef Mike Solomonov's newest cookbook here.

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