How To Host An Affordable Brunch

Make this your Sunday game plan

I hate going out to brunch. There, I said it.

Come Sunday morning, when I'm still shaking off the remnants of the previous night's revelry, I would rather stay in and cook in my pajamas—and save myself from spending $25 for overcooked eggs and sad mimosas. Frankly, I can do better, and so can anyone who enjoys cooking (if you're reading this, you probably already fit into that camp).

Channeling my days living in a tiny apartment in Jerusalem in my early 20s, a time when my entertaining budget was pretty minimal, I set out to host a brunch for six for just $50. I figured that's about what a couple would spend eating and drinking out on a Sunday morning in New York, and I gave myself a pass on pantry staples like olive oil and dried spices.

When planning a shopping list for any meal, I always start with the main dish and build out from there, as that course will indefinitely eat up the bulk of the budget. I wanted a dish that would be hearty but also eggy, so I settled on something else from my time in Israel: a double batch of shakshuka (pro tip: Going vegetarian is always easier on the wallet). This recipe from Mimi's in New York combines lightly charred tomatoes and onions with warm cinnamon for a Moroccan twist on the classic, and ran me a total of $14.24.

In Israel, traditional breakfasts are defined by vegetables, so I added Michael Solomonov's riff on tabbouleh from the Zahav cookbook to the roster. The Philly-based chef trades in the standard parsley-and-bulgur combo for kale and walnuts, and tosses in pickled onions for a touch of sharpness, and apples for freshness (all in: $5.11). An out-of-season pomegranate would have pushed me over budget, so I left it out, but no one seemed to miss it.

Golden coins of soft carrots dressed up with red chile flakes are another staple of the Israeli breakfast scene, but I wanted to shake up the dish, so I decided to lean on Andrew Carmellini's take on roasted carrots with sunflower seeds to give the dish some crunch. At the market, I ditched the dill and baby carrots and went with a bargain bag of the multicolored grown-up version ($3.14), then simply cut them in half lengthwise and upped the cooking time a touch to compensate. I also swapped out the spice blend for a similar one I already had in the house, and, much like that pricy pomegranate, the group was none the wiser.

I rounded out the meal with pita ($3) from a nearby Middle Eastern store that bakes it fresh daily, as well as pickles ($2.13) and Lebanese olives ($1.26) from the budget-friendly bulk section at another place down the block. I also deployed my go-to hosting-on-a-budget trick: inexpensive feta ($3.15) mashed up with olive oil, a dried spice (I like za'atar, but oregano or basil works just fine) and fresh ground pepper.

Once the bulk of my food shopping was done, I stepped back and looked at my menu. Something was missing. I knew many of my guests would arrive with a bottle of bubbly in hand (NB: Never arrive to brunch at someone's home sans bubbly!), but I didn't want anyone to have to wait around for their pre-brunch drink. So I dug into the remainder of my funds for a bottle of Prosecco ($13.07), subbing it in for half of the water in this limonana, or a lemon and mint slushie, recipe ($2.50). As morning slid into afternoon and more Champagne-toting brunchers made their way to the table, my guests and I simply kept topping off our glasses with each new bottle.  

And dessert? I was running low on cash, so a $2 box of strawberries from the local street vendor it was. But, good friends that they are, two showed up with dessert in hand.

The final damage: $49.60 spent, six friends well fed and not a watery mimosa in sight.