Entertaining with Indian food can be both easy and hard. It is easy because you have endless options to choose from. What makes it hard is cooking Indian food at home can be time-consuming, especially for a crowd.
If you want to serve fresh food that you have made that day, it probably means spending endless hours in the kitchen. By the time the guests come, you are exhausted and all you want to do is lay down and call it a day. Seriously, that used to be my story until I figured out a system that enabled me to spend less time in the kitchen and enjoy more time with family and friends. Here’s how you can do it.
How to throw an Indian party at home
Here are the steps that I go through when entertaining with Indian food.
Finalize the party theme
Throwing a party starts with finalizing the guest list. Before you send out the invites, determine if it is going to be a potluck or not. If it is going to be a potluck, you definitely need a theme to make sure the dishes that your guests bring go with each other. Examples of themed parties would be
- Indian street food
- Backyard Barbeque
- Vegetarian Only
- North Indian
- South Indian
- Festival themed – Holi / Diwali, etc.
Indian dinner party menus usually include drinks, appetizers, accompaniments, rice dishes, flatbreads, curries, side dishes, and desserts. We will go through each course and talk about how to put a menu together for a few themes such as North Indian, South Indian and Indian street food.
Here are the steps to follow while planning a menu.
- Finalize the headcount.
- Find out about any dietary restrictions – allergies, vegetarian, vegan, etc.
- Decide the number of items you need to cook by course – Here are my recommendations along with tips
- Drinks – 1 to 2. You could do one homemade beverage and the other store-bought juice/soda/alcohol.
- Appetizers – 2 to 3. I usually serve 2 vegetarian appetizers and one non-vegetarian.
- Accompaniments – Chutneys are a must if you are serving Indian appetizers. Make the green chutney at home and you can get store-bought tamarind chutney. Serve one raita for sure or keep lots of yogurt handy.
- Rice dishes – You can reduce the quantity of plain rice if making biryani but don’t skip it. You could substitute plain rice with jeera rice.
- Flatbreads – Store-bought garlic naans are always a huge hit. Though homemade rotis are a healthier option making it for a crowd can be labor-intensive.
- Curries + Side dish (3-5)
- A simple dal / sambar / rasam / kadhi
- 1-2 vegetable dish – paneer/potato dish or any other vegetable dish
- Beans/chickpeas curry
- 1 chicken or seafood or egg curry
- Desserts (2 to 3) – One homemade and one store-bought (brownies, cakes, ice-cream, etc).
- Tips for potluck success – If you are going the potluck route, I have a few tips to share.
- Plan a theme and share it with your guests.
- Create a group chat via text or WhatsApp group for easy coordination and also, so that everyone knows what each person is bringing.
- Give suggestions but let people pick what they want to bring :). Here’s where having a theme helps.
- As a host, plan on preparing (or buying from store) one item from each course. In case, a guest bails out due to sickness or any other reason, you’ll still have enough dishes to make a complete meal. Dishes that other guests can bring
- Side dish
- Rice dish – biryani or jeera rice
- Don’t forget to thank the guests for coming and getting a dish :).
Recipe ideas by course
Drinks recipes (Pick 1 or 2)
The easiest choice is alcohol/soda for adults and juice for kids. But if you are looking to make it interesting, here are a few options –
- Mango lassi
- Mango milkshake
- Lemonade (perfect for summers and BBQ parties)
- Homemade pineapple juice
- Sweet lassi
- Juice for kids
- Ginger tea (preferably, post-lunch or brunch)
- Beer/wine. Read this: Indian food and beer pairings. Also, read what wine goes with Indian food.
- Thandai (during Holi)
Appetizers (Pick 2 or 3)
If you are calling folks over for brunch or lunch, skip the appetizers unless it is a late lunch. I often rely on store-bought appetizers that I buy from either Costco or Indian stores.
- Baby corn Manchurian
- Bread roll
- Corn bhel
- Chili Paneer
- Instant Pot Dudhi Muthia
- Instant Pot Khaman
- Mysore Bonda
- Onion Pakoda
- Oven-roasted chickpeas
- Paneer Tikka
- Rava Dhokla
- Veg cutlet
These are best bought in-store rather than online. The links are provided so that you know which one to get.
Indian store appetizers
- Deep cocktail samosas (air fry them at 400 degrees F for 8 minutes)
- Deep kachoris (air fry them at 400 degrees F for 8-10 minutes)
- Patra / Alu vadi
The appetizers from Costco are not Indian but they are convenient and sometimes it is fun to mix it up.
- White meat chicken Taquitos
- Mini quiche
- Crab cake minis
- Chicken potstickers
- Mozzarella sticks
- Spring rolls
- Hummus with pita chips
- Spinach and Artichoke dip with chips
- Chips and Salsa (love the Mango salsa)
- Rojo’s 6 layer dips
Most Indian appetizers need chutneys to go with it especially coriander and tamarind chutney. And the one accompaniment you must have is raita – to cool off after savoring a spicy Indian meal.
Chutneys for appetizers (Pick 1 or 2)
Chutneys to serve with a South Indian meal
Raitas (pick 1)
- Grated cucumber raita
- Boondi raita
- Onion raita
- Cucumber- tomato raita
- Mango raita (don’t serve this if you are already making Mango lassi or Mango milkshake)
Read more: Here’s a list of 10+ raita recipes for you to choose from.
Rice dishes (Pick 1 -2)
Note: You can reduce the quantity of plain rice if making biryani but don’t skip it. You could substitute plain rice with jeera rice.
For more rice dish ideas, check out this post on exciting Biryani recipes that you can make.
Flatbreads (Pick 1)
Curries (Pick 3-5)
Lentils based curries (Pick 1)
Pulses (Pick 1)
Vegetarian side dishes/curries (Pick 1-2)
Chicken & Seafood curries/side dish (Pick 1)
- Chicken ghee roast
- Chicken tikka masala
- Butter chicken
- Chicken Chettinad
- Tandoori chicken
- Chicken Vindaloo
- Shrimp curry
- Prawns Balchao
Dessert (Pick 2)
- Cheesecake from Costco
Here are some sample menus for the most popular themes – North Indian, Indian Street Food, and South Indian. If you need ideas, drop a comment below and I will be happy to help.
- Drinks: Mango lassi
- Appetizer: Paneer Tikka, Instant Pot Khaman, and Chicken 65
- Rice dish: Jeera rice
- Raita: Boondi raita
- Main course: Naan, Dal fry, Channa masala, Aloo gobi, and Chicken tikka masala
- Dessert: Carrot halwa and store-bought ice-cream sandwiches or bars for kids
If you are serving dry Paneer tikka as an appetizer, don’t make Paneer tikka masala for the main course. The same rule applies to chicken tikka and chicken tikka masala.
- Drinks: Coconut water
- Appetizer: Idli + coconut chutney and Mysore Bonda
- Rice dish: Plain rice, lemon rice
- Raita: cucumber tomato raita
- Main course: Sambar, beans poriyal, chicken Chettinad, cabbage palya
- Dessert: rice kheer and brownies for kids
Indian street food
- Drinks – Lemonade
- Appetizers – Veg grilled sandwich (cut bite-sized), bhel puri and Ragda patties
- Accompaniments: Cilantro chutney and Tamarind chutney
- Main course – Pav bhaji
- Dessert – Kulfi and store-bought ice-cream sandwiches or bars for kids
No appetizer needed – keep it simple 🙂
- Menu idea 1 – Poori, shrikhand and aloo sabzi with Mango lassi. Dessert – Gulab jamun
- Menu idea 2 – Aloo paratha or Paneer paratha with sweet lassi and cucumber raita. Dessert – rice kheer.
How to plan/prep ahead for an Indian party
Once you have finalized the headcount and menu, the next step would be to determine the quantity of food you will need. This is an important step that you need to complete before you head to the grocery store.
How much to cook for a crowd
For a crowd of over 20 adults, I usually do a potluck or rely on catering. Irrespective of what you choose, here are the guidelines to remember –
- Large tray (approx 30 cups) serves about 40-50 people
- Half tray (about 15 cups) serves about 20-25 people
- Quarter tray (about 7.5 cups) serves about 10-15 people
- Catering orders – When ordering appetizers, ask the restaurant for the number of pieces of the appetizer in each tray. Plan for at least 1-2 samosas or cutlets per person (and include the kids). If they are small cocktail samosas, you may need 3-4 per person.
- Reduce the quantity of the main course if you are serving appetizers or you’ll have a lot of leftovers. For example, if you have 10 adults + 10 kids, cook only for 10 adults.
A quick tip
Here’s an example – Assuming you are a family of four (2 adults and 2 kids) and you make 8 servings every day (enough for lunch and dinner), just double that amount if you are hosting 20 people (10 adults + 10 kids) at home. Since you are serving other items, you don’t need a whole lot.
1 week ahead
- Make a shopping list.
- Buy your basic produce (onion, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, spices, pulses, rice, paneer, etc) and frozen appetizers/naan.
- Make onion-tomato masala and/or tikka masala. Store it in the freezer.
1 – 2 days ahead
- Go over your menu and make sure you have everything you need for your party.
- Shop for chicken, seafood, vegetables, and bakery items along with drinks.
- Buy fresh flowers (optional).
- Chop all the veggies and save them in the refrigerator.
- Let the pre-made masalas thaw in the fridge.
- Make raitas, chutneys, and desserts and put them in the refrigerator.
- Refrigerate the drinks – don’t forget.
- Clean up the house 🙂
The day of the party
- In the morning
- Cook all the dishes except rice.
- Transfer the dishes to an oven-proof serving dish.
- Clean the dishes.
- Put the frozen appetizers (including naan) in the refrigerator to thaw.
- Two hours before the party
- Add the tempering to all the dishes that require it.
- Chop the herbs for the garnish.
- Cook the frozen appetizers – bake /air-fry / microwave.
- Pan-fry or bake the naan.
- Put the finished dishes /appetizers in the oven with ‘Keep warm’ function on or set it at the lowest temperature your oven allows.
- Keep rice in your Instant Pot and set a timer for 30-minutes before you are planning to serve dinner.
- Clean up the kitchen and get the dishes done.
- Empty the trash.
- Set the table – get the plates, glasses, serving spoons, silverware ready.
- One hour before the party
- Relax and change into party wear 🙂
- Before serving
- Use a microwave to heat as needed
- Don’t forget to garnish your dishes with herbs.