The priority here is cost: We're going to get dinner on the table for $7 per person or less. But a couple of key ingredients keep things elegant. This dinner party serves 6, so we're estimating the total cost at around $40, but you can scale the ingredients down or up and plan accordingly.
Keep it simple, with main ingredients that can be bolstered by things you probably have already, like oil, fresh herbs and dry seasonings. For this meal, we're considering sugar, olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes pantry items. Here's the approximate cost breakdown for everything else:
12 chicken thighs, about $15
1 (3-pound) pound bag rice, $3
1 (6-ounce) bag almonds, $4
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk, $2
1 (2-pound) bag carrots, $2
1 bunch fresh parsley, $1
1 lemon, $1
1 6-pack of your favorite beer, $7
1 10- to 12-ounce package coffee, $5
1 (14-ounce) can whipped cream, $2
Meal total: $42 for 6 people
Purchase a six-pack of your favorite brew to get things going, and invite guests to bring one six-pack per two people, then add all of the beers to a cooler and let guests choose from the potpourri. Offer non-alcoholic refreshment in the form of infused water. In a large container, combine 1 gallon drinking water with: 3 lemons, sliced thick; 1 cup sliced strawberries and 1 cup fresh basil leaves. Squeeze the ingredients slightly as you add them to the water, to release their juices. Refrigerate an hour or so before the party to let the flavors mingle.
Curry Chicken Thighs
Thighs are the way to go here, a relatively inexpensive cut of meat that comes preloaded with tons of flavor. Plus, it's easy to cook and doesn't have to be fussed with too much. See the recipe for Curry Chicken Thighs.
Toasted Coconut Rice
Coconut milk is another ingredient that helps bring a lot of flavor to a meal for little cost. To make this toasty rice dish, add 2 cups basmati, jasmine or brown rice to a medium saucepan over medium heat along with 1/2 cup slivered almonds. Cook for a minute or two until rice and nuts become slightly fragrant and toasty. Add 1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover, and cook for about 20 minutes, or until rice is cooked through and liquid is mostly absorbed.
A simple side dish that's cost-friendly, especially if you buy a bag of whole carrots. You'll need about 3 pounds for this recipe. To make, peel carrots and cut into 2-inch pieces. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add carrots; cook for 6 minutes. Drain, and return to pot set over medium-high heat. To the pot, add 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 lemon very thinly sliced and 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper and cook for 3 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley and salt and black pepper to taste.
Granita is a budget-friendly dessert because it involves shockingly few ingredients. To make this coffee-flavored version, add 6 cups hot brewed espresso or coffee to a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, then add 2/3 cup granulated sugar and stir. Place dish in your freezer. After an hour, scrape the mixture with a fork to create some texture. Repeat this step every hour for 5 hours. (Mixture should be almost completely frozen the last time you scrape.) You can let the granita sit overnight between the 4th and 5th scraping if you need to. Before serving, top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, if desired.