Pictured: Whipped Feta with Sweet and Hot Peppers recipe from CHOW
If you love entertaining but are tired of the standard meat-and-potatoes combination, check out these 18 easy dishes that go beyond the framework of everyday dinner and are as delicious as they are inventive. Packed with spices and fresh herbs, and simple to boot, these recipes are a fail-safe way to add another entrée to your current dinner-party rotation. Don't take CHOW's word for it: Invite some friends over this weekend and pick out your favorite of these to kick your weekend off right.
1. Braised Tunisian Chicken Thighs
This recipe by LA chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo for Plated is incredibly simple but oh so impressive. The two spice mixes are what really differentiate it. The first, with cinnamon, sweet paprika, caraway seeds, coriander, and cumin, is used to marinate the chicken with olive oil. The second mix adds more heat, with turmeric, ancho chile powder, and chipotle chile powder. Measure the spice mixes ahead of time (or order through Plated!) to make this a quick meal. Get our Braised Tunisian Chicken Thighs recipe.
2. Orecchiette with Sausage, Brown Butter, and Sage
Spicy sausage is a great way to add flavor without a lot of work. Brown butter and pecorino, along with fresh sage, blend together for a lovely mix of Italian flavors when tossed with 8 ounces of orecchiette. Make sure to double the recipe if you use a full pound of pasta to be sure there is enough sauce (but you can still use the same amount of sausage if you’re trying to save calories). Get our Orecchiette with Sausage, Brown Butter, and Sage recipe.
3. Chicken Larb Cabbage Cups
Thai chicken larb is spicy and flavorful—lime, mint, cilantro, scallions, fish sauce, Sriracha, and a fresh Thai chile really kick it up a notch. Cut the scallions finely so that they’ll crisp up and make for a crunchy garnish. If you’re not in the mood for lettuce cups, this also tastes great piled in a baguette with some greens, for an easy to-go version. Get our Chicken Larb Cabbage Cups recipe.
Raclette with romesco sauce is a very-special-occasion dish that you won’t find on many tables but is actually simple to prepare. The romesco is very traditional, with roasted red peppers, Marcona almonds, toasted garlic, kosher salt, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and espelette pepper, from the Basque region. The raclette combines shredded Manchego with shredded Idiazábal, a sheep’s-milk cheese that also hails from Spain. Once assembled, you can serve straight from the pan. Get DTLA Cheese's Raclette recipe.
5. Belcampo’s Philly Cheesesteak
A Philly cheesesteak made at home is one of life’s great luxuries. The trick to the sauce here is to not use pre-shredded cheeses (which can be coated in cornstarch) and to mix the provolone and white cheddar with a little bit of sodium citrate, which will keep the blend smooth and creamy. Onion and peppers top off a perfect sandwich. Get Belcampo's Philly Cheesesteak recipe.
6. Belcampo’s Pulled Lamb Belly Sandwich
Move over pulled pork, we’ve got pulled lamb belly on the table now. This is a simple recipe that takes time—start it early in the morning on a Sunday or the day before. The lamb belly is roasted with garlic, ground fennel seed, cumin, and paprika; the resulting braising liquid is saved and used to marinate the meat after cooking. Get Belcampo's Pulled Lamb Belly Sandwich recipe.
7. Garlicky Croutons
What’s a salad without croutons? Once you’ve had these homemade croutons the store-bought kind just don’t cut it. They’re equally delicious sprinkled on soup, but these sourdough croutons are a fantastic crunch addition to throw on top of a salad. They're made with three garlic cloves, but you can add other spices to change the flavor profile to suit your particular salad. Get our Garlicky Croutons recipe.
8. Caesar Dressing
This is a classic Caesar dressing that tastes 20 times better than the bottle you’ve been keeping in the fridge. Combine finely chopped anchovies with diced garlic, whisk in a whole raw egg, an egg yolk, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce, and beat until smooth, then slowly drizzle in olive oil. This dressing is best served immediately, and because of the raw egg shouldn’t be kept for later use. Get our Caesar Dressing recipe.
9. Caesar Salad
Combining CHOW’s recipes for garlicky croutons and homemade Caesar dressing, this romaine-based Caesar salad is a winner. Far more delicious than any boring room-service order, this take on Caesar salad isn’t afraid of strong flavors and relies heavily on the garlic and anchovy in the dressing. Garnish with freshly ground black pepper and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano for a perfect plate. Get our Caesar Salad recipe.
10. Basic Polenta
Polenta is an endlessly versatile side dish, and with a hearty ragout can be a great main dish as well. This recipe for red flint polenta has mascarpone and a whole stick of butter, which makes it extra creamy and rich. Store leftover polenta in a circular container and then you can easily slice it thinly and sear it in butter or olive oil the next morning for a fantastic meal with a poached egg. Get our Red Flint Polenta recipe.
11. Easy Basil Pesto
There isn’t anything that doesn’t taste better with pesto. More than just a pasta sauce, a great pesto can be used as a sandwich spread, to jazz up scrambled eggs, and as a great sauce for pizza. If you don’t have any pine nuts on hand, you can easily substitute almonds or walnuts, but be sure to toast them ahead of time for the best flavor. Get our Easy Basil Pesto recipe.
12. Arugula-Walnut Pesto
This take on pesto maximizes the peppery taste of arugula by pairing it with Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, and toasted walnuts. Add the olive oil last to make sure the pesto is as smooth as possible. This recipe is great year-round but is an especially great way to make pesto when basil is out of season and hard to find in the dead of winter. Get our Arugula-Walnut Pesto recipe.
13. Chole (Chana) Masala
This dish of chickpeas stewed with tomatoes and a handful of traditional Indian spices (including two serrano chiles) is easily adapted to serve as many people as you want and tastes best served with fluffy white rice (or brown rice, if you must). Garnish with plain yogurt and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses and serve with naan. Get our Chole Masala recipe.
14. Eggplant and Mushroom Polenta Bake
An Italian take on vegetarian shepherd’s pie, this eggplant and mushroom polenta bake is easy to assemble ahead of time and serves a crowd. Classic Italian flavors—oregano, red wine, and Parmesan—are artfully repurposed in this deep-dish entrée that has a layer of bubbly shredded fontina on top. Increase the red pepper flakes if you want to add a bit of a kick. Get our Eggplant and Mushroom Polenta Bake recipe.
15. Curried Carrot Soup
The spices in this carrot soup make it far more memorable than the usual vegetable soup: Garlic, ginger, curry powder, and coconut milk lend an Asian-inspired flair to this dish that can be served hot or cold. Serve in individual glasses for hors d’oeuvres portions and garnish with a few flakes of coconut. Get our Curried Carrot Soup recipe.
16. Fast Lemon-Parsley Shrimp Pasta
Your guests will find it hard to believe that this lemon, parsley, and shrimp pasta can be tossed together in only 30 minutes on a weeknight. White wine, butter, finely grated lemon zest, garlic, parsley, Parmesan, and red pepper flakes are combined with boiled water reserved from cooking the pasta for a smooth and quick sauce that only gets better the more Parmesan you grate on top of the finished dish. Get our Fast Lemon-Parsley Shrimp Pasta recipe.
17. Whipped Feta with Sweet and Hot Peppers
This dip is a great party starter and easy to make ahead of time. Freshly squeezed lemon juice, pimenton, Aleppo chile flakes, crushed Urfa chile, red bell peppers, and a whole pound of feta are whipped together to make a spicy dip that’s ideal for crudités, pita chips, or crackers. Get our Whipped Feta with Sweet and Hot Peppers recipe.
18. One-Pot Beef Stroganoff with Egg Noodles
Beef stroganoff tastes like you spent hours in the kitchen but with this quick one-pot version you’ll have a fancy meal on the table in no time. White wine, paprika, beef broth, and sour cream combine to make a creamy sauce that pairs beautifully with sautéed cremini mushrooms. Serve leftovers with additional egg noodles or over rice or polenta. Get our One-Pot Beef Stroganoff with Egg Noodles recipe.
Caitlin M. O'Shaughnessy is a New York City–based food writer and editor at Penguin who has worked on and recipe-tested several cookbooks. She is currently in search of NYC's best ramen, and is one of the few people who admit to disliking brunch.