Inexpensive (and Impressive!) Main Dishes for Parties

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

We are all about entertaining on a budget. Dinner parties should never be sacrificed because of the economy or lack of ability to buy chateaubriand. You can feed a lot of people without spending a fortune, and we’ve got five dishes that prove it. Just so you know, you’ll probably need a big pot.

There are a few myths about throwing a party on the cheap. One is that you should have a bunch of appetizers- a roving, heavy hors d’oeuvres type of affair instead of a sit-down dinner. Not true! We go the opposite route. Make one huge, hulking pot of something (usually a cheap cut of meat that looks way fancier than it is) and accessorize with bread and a simple, roasted vegetable.

Another myth: Going vegetarian is cheaper than serving meat. That can be true at times, and we’ve got a lot of vegetarian inspiration around here. But meat doesn’t have to break the bank; sometimes it’s less expensive than buying a bunch of produce and spices for a meatless meal.

Here are five inexpensive main dishes we’d serve at a party:

• 1. Pasta with sausage and greens. It takes so little sausage to flavor a huge pot of noodles; half a pound can often cover four people. (Try this variation on the theme too.) Don’t like sausage? Take a look at this template for creating any pasta dish with a bit of meat, cheese, and green.

• 2. Braised short ribs. Slightly more expensive than a half pound of sausage, but still economical. Short ribs are fatty and filling; you don’t need huge portions. And you hardly need any other ingredients- just some liquid and a few vegetables or herbs to flavor the braise. This goes for Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk, another fabulous inexpensive meal. After the chicken, you really only need a few cloves of garlic, some sage, and a lemon or two. It’ll feed four people for less than $10, and that’s including some rice on the side.

• 3. Mussels. Again, you need little more than some wine or broth and a few aromatics to turn a big pot of mussels into a fragrant, impressive main dish. Serve a lot of bread (for dipping and because mussels aren’t overly filling) and then a decadent chocolate dessert.

• 4. Breakfast for dinner. Sarah Rae talked about this earlier in the week, but it’s worth repeating: Eggs are cheap! And it would be a nice, unexpected twist to have friends over for breakfast in the evening. We think bloody marys taste good any time of day.

• 5. Meatballs. Meatballs are one of those throwback meals that a lot of people never make but love to eat. Trust us, if you throw a big platter of meatballs in the middle of the table, people (who eat meat) will be happy. Put them over pasta or make meatball subs. And remember: They’ll be great if you use a mix of beef, pork, and lamb, but they’ll be great if you go all-chuck, too.

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