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What to serve with tamales (19 complementary sides)

Tamales are not your usual packet of corn. It’s a dish that’s made from masa (corn flour dough) and filling, all wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf and then cooked in a steamer. It has been a long-standing Mexican traditional staple dish commonly served for breakfast or dinner. They come with a variety of fillings ranging from sweet to savory. 

Tamales might look challenging to whip up, but they’re surprisingly easy to make! I’m a big fan of tamales and they always give me and my family a satisfying mouthfeel. A few weeks ago, I made a large batch of them and reheated the corn-based treats to retain their delicious flavor. Yum!

Though tamales can be a hearty stand-alone meal, a few complementary side items will turn this recipe into an ultimate tamale feast. Whether you’re hosting a Mexican-themed party, feeding a hungry crowd, or whatever the occasion may be, here are some of the best complementary side dishes for tamales.

1. Mexican rice

You’ll never visit a Mexican restaurant ever again once you discover how fast and easy it is to whip up this tasty restaurant-style Mexican rice. This hearty take on everyone’s favorite rice is the ideal dish for your tamales. Plus, it’s ready in just 25 minutes!

You will love the aromatic combination of jalapeño, ground cumin, and fresh onion, But you can use serrano chile peppers instead of jalapeño if you prefer. Serve this rice with lime wedges for better presentation. 

Get the recipe here.

2. Cucumber tomato avocado salad

This recipe is an updated version of the summer classic cucumber and tomato salad with the addition of diced avocado. The salad is tossed in a lemon dressing with a hint of cilantro to give the vegetables more freshness. If you aren’t a fan of cilantro, top the salad with fresh dill. 

Toss with sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Here’s the recipe.

3. Tortilla chips

Tortilla chips, of course! But don’t just reach for the bag. Doctor them up a bit! They hit all the flavor and texture points needed to satisfy your snacking craving. They’re super crunchy and savory from paprika, ground cumin, and lemon juice. 

And when served with a bowl of green-pea guacamole (you just gotta try it) or simple cheesy sauce, these tortilla chips make the perfect snack for any kind of gatherings like weekend brunches or movie nights. They’re also a fun recipe when partnered with tamales.

If you aren’t keen on spicy seasoning, then season the chips with simple salt. 

Get the recipe here.

4. Black beans

Black beans and tamales are like siblings bound together. When both are served at the table, a simple meal is sure to become memorable.

This Mexican black beans recipe comes together with ease and makes four servings. If you’re planning to make it for a large crowd, double the recipe. Chopped onions, garlic, cilantro, and cumin will ensure that every bowl will be filled with plenty of flavors.

Apart from tamales, it pairs perfectly with other Mexican staples like tacos and enchiladas. 

Here’s the recipe.

5. Pinto beans

This recipe is a welcome addition to your snack time or lunch alongside tamales. Everyone is bound to love this easy take on pinto beans as it’s completely customizable. Feel free to season the dish with garlic salt, thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, cayenne pepper, or any spices that suit the tastes of your family. 

The trick is to soak the pinto beans first. Soaking them allows the beans to cook faster afterward and taste more flavorful. I accidentally made an entire 10 oz bag of dried pintos and filled quarts of containers with cooked beans! A few goes a long way!

Learn how to cook pinto beans in three easy ways here.

6. Refried beans

Challenging to make? Maybe. Worth it? Yes! The secret to these refried beans is avoiding pre-soaking the beans and letting the pressure cooker do its job. It’s also best if you pick dry pinto beans than those canned ones as they have superior flavor and texture. 

Though the recipe calls for seasonings such as onion, jalapeño, bay leaves, and classic Southwest spices like cumin and cayenne, it actually has endless possibilities when it comes to variations. 

Read more to learn how to customize this recipe here.

7. Cilantro lime rice

This rice recipe results in a complementary side dish so scrumptious, you’ll wonder why you didn’t make it sooner. It packs a punch, but it’s not that overwhelming to create. The dish uses a blend of lime juice, zest, and cilantro, making it fresh and flavorful that’s perfect for chicken-based entrees, shrimps, tamales, or any of your Mexican favorites. 

Make this recipe ahead of time in large batches so you can always have cilantro lime rice ready whenever the mood for food strikes! Leftovers? Store it in an airtight container and refrigerate.

Get the recipe here.

8. Jalapeño cheddar cornbread

What goes with tamales? Cornbread! This Jalapeño cheddar cornbread recipe calls for staple ingredients such as cornmeal, all-purpose flour, baking powder, egg, buttermilk, cheddar cheese, sour cream, jalapeños, scallion, and frozen corn. 

Start by combining all the dry ingredients in a large glass bowl. Stir them vigorously with a fork. Fold in jalapeños and corn and pour the mixed ingredients into the cast iron skillet then bake until golden brown. 

Less heat? Subtract the jalapeños. More kicks? Add a dash of cayenne pepper to the batter!

Unlock this recipe here.

9. Corn chowder

Full of bacon, red potatoes, and onions, all you need is a hunk of bread or tamale to complete this summer meal. The recipe calls for fresh yellow sweet corn, but you can always choose those frozen ones if you’re running out of the ingredient. 

The secret to the nice thickness of this corn chowder is the inclusion of beurre manié in the soup. To create this fancy-sounding mixture, you need to add equal parts softened butter and flour then knead together with your fingers or a wooden spoon until a thick paste has formed.

Here’s the recipe.

10. Cilantro lime crema

This Mexican crema recipe is enhanced with a simple blend of mayonnaise, cilantro, sour cream, and lime that can be served alongside tacos, burritos, salads, soups, and even tamales. 

Making this recipe is quite straightforward. Simply add all the ingredients into a blender. Blend everything until smooth and that’s it! If you want to add a little heat, add a few slices of jalapeno or serrano peppers to the mix. 

Get the recipe here.

11. Cucumber and avocado soup

This quick and easy recipe shows you how to make cucumber and avocado soup with lime juice and Greek yogurt to create a refreshing and flavor-filled soup in just a few minutes. 

But remember, this soup should be chilled in the fridge for three hours so I recommend making it in advance, then tossing some cucumber slices and a sprig of dill before serving. 

If you feel that the soup is a bit too thick, feel free to add a few tablespoons of water into the mix. 

Here’s the recipe.

12. Mexican street corn

What to eat with tamales? You better not forget to serve this grilled Mexican street corn!

The recipe comes together in a snap yet it’s packed with flavor. Simply whisk together the crema, mayonnaise, cilantro, garlic, chipotle pepper, lime zest, and lime juice to create a sauce. Proceed to grill the corn until all sides are browned. Once done, coat the corn with the crema mixture and sprinkle with crumbled cotija cheese. Serve them while hot alongside lime wedges and your favorite tamales. 

Here’s the recipe.

13. Jicama slaw

This colorful and crunchy Jicama slaw will be a star at any family gathering. With the light and tangy flavor of the vinaigrette and bite from red cabbage, pepper, and jicama, this slaw is the ideal companion for sauteed salmon, tamales, and grilled steak.

The recipe also keeps well in the fridge for a few days. Make sure to store the vinaigrette and jicama mixture separately and combine them for the big day. 

Get the recipe here.

14. Horchata

Made with white rice, sugar, almonds, cinnamon stick, vanilla, and milk, this Mexican-inspired drink is sure to cool you down on a hot and summer day. 

It may take a while to soak the rice, cinnamon, and almonds in water, but the finished product is totally worth the wait. The flavors of the ingredients appear when you soak, blend, and mix them. 

Don’t forget to strain the mix using a mesh strainer to avoid a gritty texture to the beverage. 

Here’s the recipe.

15. Guacamole salad

This summer salad is the perfect main or side dish for warm-weather or potluck meals. Make this festive salad for lunch or dinner, and you’ll find yourself making it again and again. 

For a choose-your-own-salad adventure, add grapefruit and a little amount of Italian dressing. Serve them alongside tuna tartare, tamales, and ciabatta toast to complete the meal!

Get the recipe here.

16. Curtido

It’s time to elevate the flavor of your Mexican tamales, burrito bowls, and quesadillas with this curtido recipe! The dish combines green cabbage, yellow onion, carrots, oregano, jalapeño, and fine salt, resulting in a fresh, crunchy, and addicting side dish. 

You need to refrigerate and keep the curtido submerged under the brine as this allows the flavor and complexity to develop. Just ensure the container is covered with a cheesecloth or closed lid to keep the dish for months. 

Here’s the recipe.

17. Feta-stuffed peppers

Pick up some colorful mini peppers from your nearby grocery store and stuff them with cream cheese, feta cheese, garlic powder, and dill to create a festive and easy snack or appetizer.

The recipe is quite easy to assemble and it’s the perfect dish to whip up at the last minute or in advance. Serve these little bites immediately or pop them in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

Get the recipe here.

18. Grilled vegetable skewers

Whether you’re hosting a party, game day feast, or simply needing some appetizers to keep your guests satisfied before the main entree, these grilled vegetable skewers are sure to impress everyone. You can make the skewers a day ahead, so all you have to do before your party is fire up the grill. 

The recipe only calls for kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper as seasonings, but feel free to experiment with different spices you have on hand. 

Get the recipe here.

19. Caesar salad

Say goodbye to your boring Caesar salad and hello to this modern egg-free take on the Mexican recipe. 

Traditionally Caesar salad dressing includes eggs and anchovies, lemon, garlic, mustard, oil, and cream or mayonnaise. But this recipe’s dressing with no egg and anchovy-free! 

And what’s more? You can create the dressing without the blender! Simply add lemon, mustard, Worcestershire, minced garlic, and vinegar in a large mixing bowl. Whisk until well-blended. Add the mayo, olive oil, and parmesan cheese then whisk the mixture again. Easy-peasy!

To make it even more hearty, I suggest tossing chopped crispy bacon, hard-boiled eggs, grilled chicken chunks, and tomatoes to the salad. 

Get the recipe.

The bottom line

Whatever sides for tamales you’re going to serve are going to be a hit! Looking for a light side or a hearty companion, you’ll find something for everyone on this list. Just be sure to make your tamales the star at the table. And if you’re still confused about choosing the best sides for tamales, here’s our top pick (for today, anyway):  Mexican rice, feta-stuffed peppers, and Jicama slaw will help you get a head start!

What to serve with tamales

What to serve with tamales

Wondering what to serve with tamales? Unlock 19 complementary side items for your favorite Mexican staple in this essential recipe guide.

Ingredients

  • Mexican rice
  • Cucumber tomato avocado salad
  • Tortilla chips
  • Black beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Refried beans
  • Cilantro lime rice
  • Jalapeño cheddar cornbread
  • Corn chowder
  • Cilantro lime crema
  • Cucumber and avocado soup
  • Mexican street corn
  • Jicama slaw
  • Horchata
  • Guacamole salad
  • Curtido
  • Feta-stuffed peppers
  • Grilled vegetable skewers
  • Caesar salad

Instructions

  1. Pick three side items
  2. Gather the ingredients to create the sides
  3. Once done, serve the side dishes alongside your warm tamales

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