Friday dinner parties are a highlight of entire week. But when we tried to tighten the budget recently, we combed through bank statements and realized those weekly gatherings were making grocery bills balloon. So we tried a new approach to the menus: set a $20 limit on the main dish. Here are some of the faves:
1. ROASTED BLACK BEAN AND SWEET POTATO TACOS
The chipotle aioli (an easy blitz of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce with lime and mayo in a blender) is what makes these tacos stand out—and you can save the leftover sauce for a zippy sandwich spread.
Tortillas dorado is a Mexican style of taco that involves toasting cheese-topped tortillas in a skillet before serving. You can try it with any kind of filling.
Serves 6 (Makes 12 tacos)
1½ Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1 white onion, diced
1 large poblano chili or green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ tsp. salt
1 medium orange sweet potato, cut into ½-inch dice
1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
2 cups (6 ounces) shredded Oaxaca or Monterey Jack cheese
Pico de gallo (optional)
Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Preheat oven to 400°. Heat a heavy ovenproof skillet (cast iron is ideal) over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbsp. oil to pan, then onion and poblano chili or green pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized. Stir in garlic and 1 tsp. salt.
In a medium bowl, toss sweet potato with remaining ½ Tbsp. oil and ½ tsp. salt. Add to skillet and cook, stirring, 1 minute, then place pan in oven and roast 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare tortillas dorado: Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat. Brush 1 side of a tortilla lightly with oil and place oil side down in pan. Scatter a generous spoonful of cheese over center of tortilla and cook until cheese is melted and tortilla is lightly golden on the underside but still flexible. Place on a cookie sheet and repeat with remaining tortillas and cheese. When finished, lightly oil a piece of foil and use it to cover tortillas.
Remove skillet from oven and stir in black beans and black pepper (beans will warm through from the heat of the pan). Top each tortilla with sweet potato mixture, a drizzle of chipotle sauce, and a spoonful of pico de gallo (if using).
Recipe source: www.oprah.com
2. HOMEMADE PIZZA
Going DIY is cheaper than delivery by a mile. But the key to keeping this low-cost is to skip the gourmet toppings (burrata, imported salami) and stick to just a few veggies.
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 -ounce packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Whisk 1 1/3 cups warm water (105 degrees F) and the sugar in a bowl; sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the olive oil.
Whisk the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture. Gradually stir with a wooden spoon to make a rough dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes, dusting with more flour if necessary. Form into 2 balls. Brush 2 large bowls with olive oil, add a ball of dough to each and turn to coat with the oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour, 30 minutes. Roll out and top as desired, or wrap in plastic wrap and freeze up to 1 month.
Recipe source: www.foodnetwork.com
3. BROCCOLI PARMESAN FRITTERS
Pancakes scream “budget,” but for some reason veggie-studded fritters feel almost decadent. And you can adapt this recipe to accommodate almost any extra veggies you have on hand. Serve them with a giant, simple salad, and dinner is done.
There’s a lot of broccoli and very little pancake in this fritter. The broccoli is not grated or pureed, but left in small, recognizable bits that are bound lightly, faintly, to their batter of egg, parmesan and flour. And when you cook them right — that is, to a crisp, in a preheated, heavy, oil-slicked skillet — they get a fantastic crisp edge to them, like they were coated in frico.
To serve: I like these with a dollop of the garlicky lemon yogurt I share here, roughly 1 cup plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tiny minced clove of garlic, a bit of zest and salt. It would also be good with this homemade ricotta, with or without additional lemon juice. They’re also good simply, with just a squeeze of lemon juice. Oh, and of course, you can put a runny fried egg on top of it.
Yield: 9 fritters
8 ounces (1 small-to-medium bundle, 225 grams) fresh broccoli (3 cups chopped)
1 large egg
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) finely grated parmesan cheese
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste
A pinch of red pepper flakes or several grinds of black pepper
Olive or vegetable oil for frying
Prepare your broccoli: Separate the florets from the biggest stem(s). Cut the florets into 1-inch chunks. To prepare the stems, I like to peel them, as the skin can be thick and doesn’t cook quickly, then slice them into 1/2-inch lengths. You should have about 3 cups of chopped broccoli total.
Steam your broccoli until tender but not mushy: Use whatever method you prefer. My quickie, lazy method is to bring a 1/2-inch or so of water to a boil in a small saucepan, then add the broccoli, place a lid on it and simmer it for 5 to 6 minutes. Drain the broccoli, then set it aside to cool slightly.
In the bottom of a large bowl, lightly beat your egg. Add the flour, cheese, garlic, salt and pepper. Then, add the somewhat cooled broccoli and, using a potato masher, mash the broccoli just a bit. You’re looking to keep the bits recognizable, but small enough (1/4- to 1/2-inch chunks) that you can press a mound of the batter into a fritter in the pan. Once mashed a bit, stir or fold the ingredients together the rest of the way with a spoon. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Heat a large, heavy skillet over moderate heat. Once hot, add a good slick of oil (I usually use a mix of olive and vegetable oil), about 2 to 3 tablespoons. Once the oil is hot (you can test it by flicking a droplet of water into it; it should hiss and sputter), scoop a two tablespoon-size mound of the batter and drop it into the pan, then flatten it slightly with your spoon or spatula. Repeat with additional batter, leaving a couple inches between each. Once brown underneath, about 2 to 3 minutes, flip each fritter and cook on the other side until equally golden, about another 1 to 2 minutes.
Transfer briefly to paper towels to drain, then to a serving plate if you’ll be eating them shortly or a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven if you’d like to keep them warm for a while until needed. Repeat with remaining batter, adding more oil as needed.
Recipe source: smittenkitchen.com
4. RISHIA ZIMMERN’S CHICKEN WITH SHALLOTS
Bone-in chicken thighs are a thrifty cook’s best friend, and this sumptuous dish is one-pot to boot. We make dead-simple roast potatoes for the side.
8 bone-in chicken thighs
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 to 15 whole medium shallots, peeled
2 cups white wine
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 sprigs tarragon
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half.
Rinse chicken thighs in water, and pat them very dry with paper towels. Sprinkle over them the flour, salt and pepper.
Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or skillet set over medium-high heat. When the butter foams, cook the chicken, in batches if necessary, until well browned and crisp on all sides. Set aside.
Add the whole shallots to the pot and sauté them in the butter and chicken fat until they begin to soften and caramelize, approximately 10 to 12 minutes. Add the wine to deglaze the pot, stir with a large spoon, then add the mustard and tarragon, then the chicken thighs. Cover the pot, turn the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid, and allow the sauce to reduce and thicken, 15 to 20 minutes.
Add the cherry tomatoes to the pot, stir lightly to combine and serve immediately.
Have you cooked this?
Recipe source: cooking.nytimes.com
Chef Aarti Sequeira relied on mujadara to stretch her husband’s unemployment check during the couple’s lean days. In this Lebanese dish, caramelized onions transform lentils and rice into something that feels posh. The main ingredients are so cheap, you can even spring for a sprinkle of pine nuts.
Total Time: 1 hr 25 min
Prep: 5 min
Cook: 1 hr 20 min
Yield: 6 servings
1 cup brown or green lentils, sorted for debris and rinsed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
3 medium red onions, thinly sliced
3/4 cup basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (1-inch) cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons pine nuts, optional
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Greek yogurt, for serving, optional
Throw the lentils into a medium saucepan. Fill with enough cold water to cover the lentils by about an inch. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, as the lentils cook, grab a large skillet. Pop it over medium-high heat and add the oil. Allow the oil to warm for a minute, then drop in the cumin seeds and cracked peppercorns and cook, shaking the pan once in a while until the cumin seeds darken a touch, about 1 minute.
Add the onions, sprinkle with a dash of salt and cook until they turn dark caramel brown, stirring often. This will take about 15 minutes. Splash the onions with a little water if they stick to the bottom of the pan. You’ll know they’re done both by their deep chestnut color and by the slight crispiness developing on some of the onions.
Using a slotted spoon or spatula, remove about half of the onions to a paper towel-lined plate; these are for garnish later. Sprinkle in the ground cumin, cayenne and then add the cinnamon stick; saute about 1 minute.
Add the rice and cook, stirring often (but gently so you don’t break the rice!) until some rice grains start to brown. Quickly, add the cooked lentils, 3 cups of water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt; bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low so that the pan is at a simmer, cover and cook 30 minutes. The water should be completely evaporated and rice should be tender. (If there’s still too much water in the bottom, put the lid back on and cook for another 5 minutes.)
Turn off the heat, keep the lid on, and allow the rice to steam undisturbed for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts, if using, in a small skillet over medium-low heat, shaking often, about 5 minutes.
Taste the rice for seasoning. Serve with the reserved caramelized onions, toasted pine nuts, if using, and a little squeeze of lemon juice. I also like to serve this with some dollops of Greek yogurt.
Recipe courtesy of Aarti Sequeira
Recipe source: www.foodnetwork.com
6. SAUSAGE, GREENS, AND BEANS PASTA
You don’t need much meat to flavor an entire pot of pasta (a half-pound of well-seasoned sausage can do the trick for a party of four). But it’s the addition of cannellini beans or chickpeas that sets this dish apart.
The genius of this pasta recipe is in the contrast of the textures and flavors. If spicy isn’t your thing, sub in any fresh sausage you like.
⅓ cup olive oil
2 sprigs rosemary
8 ounces spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas or cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed, patted dry
¼ cup dry white wine
12 ounces paccheri, rigatoni, or other large tubular pasta
8 cups (lightly packed) torn escarole, kale, or Swiss chard leaves
¾ cup finely grated Parmesan, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high. Fry rosemary, turning, until crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Add sausage to same pot and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon and stirring occasionally, until browned and cooked through, 8–10 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.
Add chickpeas to pot and cook, tossing occasionally and mashing some chickpeas with spoon, until browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Transfer about half of chickpeas to plate with sausage. Add wine to pot, bring to a boil, and cook until liquid is almost completely evaporated, about 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 3 minutes less than package directions.
Using a spider or a slotted spoon, transfer pasta to pot with chickpeas and add escarole and 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Cook, tossing often, until escarole is wilted, pasta is al dente, and sauce is thickened, about 4 minutes. Add another ¼ cup pasta cooking liquid, then gradually add ½ cup cheese, tossing until melted and dissolved into a luxurious, glossy sauce. Thin with more pasta cooking liquid if needed. Season with pepper, and more salt if needed. Add butter and toss to combine, then mix in reserved sausage and chickpeas.
Divide pasta among bowls. Crumble rosemary over top and sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup cheese.
Recipe by Claire Saffitz
Recipe source: www.bonappetit.com
7. FRESH HERB, POTATO, AND GOAT CHEESE FRITTATA
Eggs are cheap, but for some reason friends haven’t warmed to the idea of a scrambled egg party. Frittata, on the other hand, is a consistent dinner-time crowd pleaser, especially when it’s studded with tender potatoes.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 baby Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick (1 1/2 cups / 215g)
1 medium shallot, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
9 large eggs
3 tablespoons whole milk
1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs, like dill, basil, and chives, plus more to garnish
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces (1/2 cup) goat cheese, crumbled
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Heat the oil in a 10- to 12-inch oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add the potatoes and shallot, along with a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until golden-brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Fold in the garlic and cook for an additional 1 minute. Arrange cooked potatoes so they’re evenly distributed in a thin layer.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, chopped herbs, and salt. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet to join the potatoes and scatter the top with goat cheese. Place in the oven and bake until set and golden on top, about 12 to 14 minutes.
Slice and serve the frittata straight from the pan or slide onto a serving plate, garnish, and slice into wedges.
Be sure to use an oven-safe pan when cooking the frittata.
You may use a low-fat or nonfat milk if you’d prefer.
Recipe source: www.thekitchn.com
8. DEBORAH MADISON’S LENTIL MINESTRONE
Madison’s recipes manage to coax so much flavor out of even a short and simple ingredient list, and this soup is no exception. It actually tastes better if you make it ahead of time, then reheat just before the eaters arrive.
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra virgin to finish
2 cups finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup chopped parsley
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 carrots, diced
1 cup diced celery or celery root
Salt and freshly milled pepper
1 cup French green lentils, sorted and rinsed
Aromatics: 2 bay leaves, 8 parsley branches, 6 thyme sprigs
9 cups water or Basic Vegetable Stock
Mushroom soy sauce to taste
1 bunch greens—mustard, broccoli rabe, chard, or spinach
2 cups cooked small pasta—shells, orecchiette, or other favorite shape
Thin shavings of Parmesan.
Heat the oil in a wide soup pot with the onion. Sauté over high heat, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste, parsley, garlic, vegetables, and 2 teaspoons salt and cook 3 minutes more. Add the lentils, aromatics, and water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Taste for salt and season with pepper. If it needs more depth, add mushroom soy sauce to taste, starting with 1 tablespoon. (The soup may seem bland at this point, but the flavors will come together when the soup is finished.) Remove the aromatics.
Boil the greens in salted water until they’re tender and bright green, then chop them coarsely. Just before serving, add the greens and the pasta to the soup and heat through. Serve with extra virgin olive oil drizzled into each bowl, a generous grind of pepper, and the Parmesan.
1997 Deborah Madison
Recipe source: www.cookstr.com
9. LEEK, BACON, AND PEA RISOTTO
Risotto is too fussy for some, but if you don’t mind stirring at the stove you can wow guests with a luxe, velvety bowl of basically rice, peas, and a bit of bacon.
2 leeks, white and light-green parts only
12 cups (96 ounces) low-sodium chicken broth
4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into strips
2 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup frozen peas (optional)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Halve leeks lengthwise; rinse thoroughly. Pat dry; thinly slice. In a saucepan, bring broth to a simmer over medium. Meanwhile, in a large, straight-sided skillet or Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium, stirring, until lightly browned but not crisp, 5 minutes. Add leeks; cook, stirring, until softened, 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Add rice and cook, stirring, until translucent around edges, 1 minute.
Add wine and stir until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup broth. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until broth is absorbed, about 2 minutes.
Repeat process, gradually adding broth, until rice is al dente and risotto is creamy (you may not need all the broth), about 35 minutes. Stir in peas (if using) after the final addition of broth.
Remove skillet from heat and stir in Parmesan. Cover and let stand 2 minutes. Season risotto with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Reserve half the risotto (about 4 cups) in refrigerator for risotto cakes. Serve remaining risotto with Parmesan.
Briefly sauteing the rice before adding the broth helps it cook evenly, so it will be al dente throughout.
Recipe source: www.marthastewart.com
10. DIY CHILI BUFFET
You provide the giant pot of chili and ask your friends to potluck the toppings—because fixings like sour cream and shredded cheese and diced tomatoes really do add up!
Chili for a Crowd
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds ground beef
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/4 cup chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 12-ounce bottles lager beer
2 19-ounce cans kidney beans
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
kosher salt and black pepper
toppings (such as sour cream, radishes, scallions, avocados, jalapenos, cilantro, Cheddar, and toasted pumpkin seeds)
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the beef and cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until no longer pink, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomato paste, chili powder, and cumin and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
Add the beer, beans, the tomatoes and their juices, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve with the corn bread and toppings as desired.