Looking for a compliment worthy, yet easy Indian Dinner Party Menu? Here are some crowd pleasing recipes for appetizers, entrees, and desserts, including tried and tested sample menus. These recipes are easy to multiply, can be prepped ahead, and are perfect for Diwali parties, or any celebration. And most of them can be made using your Instant Pot!
Planning for a party can be really stressful. A lot of people get overwhelmed by the decisions on what to cook, which dishes pair well, appetizers to serve, and what drinks to offer.
In this post, I share my tried and tested North-Indian recipes for appetizers, mains, and desserts using the Instant Pot, stovetop, microwave or oven. Whether you are planning a Diwali party or a get together, the sample menus below will give you ideas on how to plan for the dinner.
How to Create a Menu
A bit of planning is key to having everything under control. Gather the following information from your guests 8-10 days before the party:
- Total number of guests
- Total number of vegetarians
- Do the non-vegetarians prefer chicken or lamb (pick one)
- Any dietary restrictions (gluten-free, dairy-free etc)
- Any food allergies
Based on the information gathered above, plan your menu. Most elaborate Indian dinners include three courses- Appetizers/Drinks, Entree and Dessert. This is what my typical menu looks like:
- Drinks: 1 Cocktail/Mocktail + Soda, Juices, Wine, Water
- 3 Appetizers: 1 filling item + 1 dip & Chips or light appetizer + Assorted spiced nuts
- 3 Entrees: 1 chicken/Lamb dish + 1 Dal/Chickpeas + 1 Paneer or Vegetable dish
- Rice & Naan: 1 Rice dish + store-bought Naan that can be heated in the oven.
- 2 Desserts: 1 dry dessert + 1 wet dessert, or Indian flavored ice-cream
Let’s checkout menu ideas now:
Elaborate & filling appetizers are pretty common in Indian parties since dinner is often served later than usual. Here are some appetizers that are most enjoyed by my family and friends, and are a breeze to put together:
- Matar Chaat / Pigeon Peas Dip with pita crackers
- Dahi Bhalla Chaat: Serve with cilantro and tamarind chutney
- Oven-Roasted Chickpeas
- Vegetable Puffs (using store-bought puff pastry shells)
- Mini-Rava Idli serve with Cilantro Chutney and Tamarind chutney
- Stuffed Mushrooms
- Tandoori Chicken
- Tandoori Fish Tikka
No party is complete without a signature drink or two. Here are two popular choices in my home:
- Mango Lassi, this easy blender recipe can be made with fresh or frozen mango, or using canned mango puree. Prepare a few hours before the party and refrigerate.
- Jal Jeera: this can be made into an Indian flavored Mojito by adding vodka.
Lentils & Beans
Typically, I serve at least one dal (lentil) dish, or one beans curry (chickpeas or kidney beans). Here are the recipes for Dals, Chana, and Rajma:
Paneer & Vegetable Entrees
Here are some paneer and vegetable dishes to pick from:
- Paneer Butter Masala/ Paneer Makhani
- Paneer Tikka Masala
- Saag Paneer/ Palak Paneer
- Kadai Paneer
- Vegetable Korma
- Aloo Gobi | Cauliflower with Potatoes
Unless majority of guests in my party are vegetarian, I often include one of the following dishes in my menu. Here is a list of popular, restaurant-style entrees that I make in the Instant Pot.
- Chicken Tikka Masala
- Restaurant-style Butter Chicken / Murgh Makhani
- Chicken Curry
- Saag Chicken
- Chicken Vindaloo
- Lamb Korma
- Mutton Curry
Rice and Biryani
Rice pairs really well with most Indian entrees. Instead of serving just plain basmati rice, I like to serve a slightly dressed up dish like cumin rice or saffron rice. You can also serve a biryani, which serves almost as an additional entree.
- Cumin Rice
- Saffron Rice
- Lemon Rice
- Spinach (Palak) Rice
- Vegetable Biryani
- Chana Masala Biryani
- Chicken Biryani
- Lamb Dum Biryani
Indian Desserts & Sweets
Depending on the occasion and type of party you are hosting, you can serve a classic Indian dessert like halwa, along with an Indian flavored ice cream, like Paan, or Kesar Pista. If it’s a Diwali or Holi party, you can also serve sweetmeals like burfi, ladoo or gujiya.
My fondest memories of Diwali are about all the sweets we used to eat during the festival season. Over the years, I figured out short cuts so that I could make these sweets easily at home. Here are some of our favorites that are on repeat for celebrations:
- Moong Dal Halwa (Lentil Pudding)
- Kesar Badam Halwa (Saffron Almond pudding)
- Carrot Halwa / Gajar ka Halwa
- Kheer (Rice Pudding)
- Carrot Burfi / Gajar ki Burfi
- Mango Cheesecake: a favorite in my home and on the blog
- Besan Ladoos (microwave recipe)
- Coconut Ladoos (10-minute microwave recipe)
- Baked Gujiya (easy oven recipe)
Sides and Condiments
Most Indian appetizers are served with fresh Cilantro Chutney. And nearly all Indian dinners are served with pickle, and a yogurt side dish, called Raita. Yogurt adds a cooling contrast to the spicy curries. Here are some simple and easy recipes for popular sides and condiments:
Sample Vegetarian Menu #1
- Appetizers / Drinks
- Main course
Sample Vegetarian Menu #2
- Appetizers / Drinks
- Main course
Sample Non-Vegetarian Menu #1
- Appetizers / Drinks
- Main course
- Moong Dal Halwa and Ice Cream
Sample Non-Vegetarian Menu #2
- Appetizers / Drinks
- Main course
Tips for Hosting a Stress-free Indian Dinner Party
Here are some tips and a rough timeline that work for me when hosting a Diwali party or any elaborate Indian dinner party. Using this plan and timeline, I am able to stay on top of things and enjoy the party without any stress.
- 8-10 Days before Party: Gather information on headcount, dietary restrictions and preferences. Refer to details listed above.
- Weekend before the party ( 5-6 days before):
- Shop for non-perishable, refrigerated or freezer items, like drinks, spices, chutneys, store-bought frozen naan, Yogurt, lentils & chickpeas, Paneer blocks.
- Buy aromatics like onion, garlic, ginger, green chili.
- Prepare ginger & garlic paste: Using a mini food processor grind 1 cup chopped ginger + 1 cup garlic cloves + 2 tbsp olive oil to a semi-coarse blend. Store in ice-cube trays and freeze. 2 days before the party transfer to refrigerator and defrost.
- 2-3 days before the party: Shop for all remaining items like fresh produce, chicken or meat.
- 2 days before the party:
- Chop/blend aromatics like onions using a food chopped or a food processor. Store in air-tight containers and refrigerate.
- Wash, dry and cut vegetables and store in air tight containers or ziplock bags.
- Chop paneer or anything that can save you time and store in air tight ziplock bags or containers.
- You can also prepare this Onion-tomato masala (master curry blend) and store in the refrigerator.
- Soak chickpeas/beans or pigeon peas (if using)
- Prepare chutney and refrigerate.
- 1 day before the party:
- Pressure cook chickpeas or split peas if using those dishes.
- Marinate meat.
- Sauces like tikka masala and Korma can be made ahead (they taste richer the next day).
- Few desserts like Kheer, or Halwa, can be prepared a day ahead.
- If using frozen naan, transfer to refrigerator to defrost overnight.
- The Day of the party: Morning
- Prepare or assemble the entrees in the morning. Cool and refrigerate.
- Cut naan in half and wrap in aluminum foil, keep aside.
- Assemble the raita and refrigerate.
- 2 hours before the party
- Remove the food from the refrigerator and transfer to oven safe serving dishes.
- Final Hour
- Assemble and start cooking rice 30 minutes before the party.
- Warm up the food in a pre-heated oven at 275F for 20 minutes. This time may vary depending on your oven.
- Transfer halwa to an oven safe dish, and an hour before serving simply re-heat in a pre-heated oven at 275F for about 15-20 minutes, or until warm.
Tips for Hosting ANY Dinner Party
- Always use recipes that you have tried before.
- I choose popular and known menu items. They are more successful than the ones that are too regional, or people have never tried before.
- I stay clear of shell fish. In a large gathering, there are strong chances that someone is severely allergic to them (unless you get a green signal from your guests).
- If you have a party of 20, don’t cook every single entree for 20. In parties, people eat appetizers, plus there are more choices than one can eat, so unless you want to have a ton of leftovers, account for 70% of your headcount for each main dish.
- This above rule does not apply to Butter Chicken or Chicken Tikka Masala 🙂 These dishes are loved by kids and adults alike, so everyone takes a helping or two 🙂
- For parties, I set up the dinner buffet-style. Even if I have seating for all, it is much easier to keep track and replenish items when food is in one central place.
- Don’t forget to setup an area for water and drinks.
What to Bring to a Diwali Party
Whenever I get invited to a Diwali Party, I always wonder what to take for the host.
Chances are, when you ask the host, most people decline and say something nice, like “oh, just bring yourself“, or ‘bring a good appetite‘, but, it is polite to take a little something… a little gesture! Here are some options that are safe to take to a Diwali Party:
- Box of chocolates, or, Indian sweets, if you have access to an Indian store or sweet shop. When picking Indian sweets, Besan ladoo (chickpea flour fudge), Burfi (milk fudge), and Kaju Katli (cashew fudge) are some popular choices.
- If you’re up to it, blow them away by making a simple dessert like Coconut Ladoo.
- Take some scented decorative candle sets, it is the festival of lights after all 🙂
- Most of the Indian Diwali parties I have been to, serve alcohol. Check with the host and don’t be shy to take a good bottle of wine.
- If nothing else works, take a medium sized bouquet of flowers.
- I recommend not to take artifacts or decorative idols of deities.
What to Bring for a Indian Themed or Office Diwali Party
Here are some dishes that most people enjoy and are easy to carry to work. You don’t necessarily have to cook them. Check with any Indian catering shop and you’ll find plenty of choices:
I hope you find these tips and sample menus useful. I would love to hear your feedback, or any tricks that work for you. Simply comment below and we can all share our secrets to hosting the BEST Indian Dinner Party. Cheers!