Looking for great ideas for what to serve with tamales?
Look no further than these 30 best sides for tamales, from tasty Mexican rice to warm and cozy atole!
Tamales are not your usual packet of corn.
It’s a dish 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 traditional Mexican 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; they always bring 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.
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.
You will love the aromatic combination of jalapeño, ground cumin, and fresh onion.
Use serrano chile peppers instead of jalapeño if you prefer; serve this rice with lime wedges for better presentation.
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.
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 crunchy and savory, and when served with a bowl of green-pea guacamole (you just gotta try it) or tamales, you’ll love the combo!
If you aren’t keen on spicy seasoning, then season the chips with simple salt.
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.
5. Pinto Beans
This recipe is a welcome addition to your snack time or lunch alongside tamales.
Everyone will love this easy take on pinto beans as it’s completely customizable.
Season the beans with garlic salt, cayenne pepper, or any spices that suit your tastes.
The trick to making the beans delicious 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 go a long way!
Challenging to make?
The secret to these Refried Beans is avoiding pre-soaking and letting the pressure cooker do its job.
It’s also best to pick dry Pinto Beans over those canned ones as they have superior flavor and texture.
Though the recipe calls for seasonings such as onion, jalapeño, bay leaves, cumin, and cayenne, it actually has endless possibilities when it comes to variations.
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, shrimp, tamales, or any of your Mexican favorites.
Make this recipe in large batches so you can always have cilantro lime rice ready whenever the mood for food strikes!
What goes with tamales?
This Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread recipe calls for staple ingredients, including cornmeal, buttermilk, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and frozen corn.
Start by combining all the dry ingredients in a large glass bowl and 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.
Subtract the Jalapeños.
Add a dash of cayenne pepper to the batter!
9. Corn Chowder
Full of bacon, red potatoes, and onions, you all need a hunk of bread or tamale to complete this comforting Corn Chowder.
The recipe calls for fresh yellow sweet corn, but you can always choose those frozen ones if you run out of ingredients.
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.
This Mexican Crema recipe is enhanced with a simple blend of mayonnaise, cilantro, sour cream, and lime that can be served alongside tacos, burritos, and 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 a little heat, add a few slices of jalapeño or serrano peppers to the mix.
This quick and easy recipe shows you how to make Cucumber & 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 3 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, simply add a few tablespoons of water.
What to eat with tamales?
Behold, this grilled Mexican Street Corn!
The recipe comes together in a snap: Mix 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.
Then coat the corn with the crema mixture and sprinkle with crumbled cotija cheese.
Serve hot alongside lime wedges and your favorite tamales.
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.
Made with white rice, sugar, almonds, cinnamon stick, vanilla, and milk, this Mexican-inspired drink is sure to cool you down on a hot 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.
Remember to strain the mix using a mesh strainer to avoid a gritty texture to the beverage.
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 some Italian dressing.
Serve them alongside tuna tartare, tamales, and ciabatta toast to complete the meal!
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 scrumptious side dish.
You need to refrigerate and keep the Curtido submerged under the brine, as this allows the flavor and complexity to develop.
Make sure the container is covered with a cheesecloth or closed lid to keep the dish for months.
Pick up colorful mini peppers from your nearby grocery store and stuff them with cream cheese, feta, garlic powder, and dill to create a festive side for tamales.
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.
Whether you’re hosting a party, game day feast, or simply needing some appetizers to satisfy your guests before the main entree, these Grilled Vegetable Skewers are bound to deliver!
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.
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!
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.
To make it even more hearty, toss chopped crispy bacon, hard-boiled eggs, grilled chicken chunks, and tomatoes into the salad.
20. Ranchero Sauce
I’ve always believed that the right sauce can raise a good dish to the level of the extraordinary, and ranchero sauce did just that!
This homemade Mexican sauce has just the right zing, brightness, spice, and smokiness.
The ingredients are mixed in a food processor to combine their flavors and thin them out to a pourable consistency.
Sauteing the ingredients concentrates the sweet and savory notes of the dried spices while intensifying the flavor.
Adding fresh lime juice balances the chipotle’s heat, giving the dish a tangy, refreshing touch.
21. Papa’s Con Rajas
If you make it a habit to stock up on fresh poblanos, you’ll always have the ingredients you need to cook up a pot of Rajas.
The Spanish word “papas” refers to potatoes, while “rajas” describes the roasted poblano pepper strips cooked in oil with onions.
They complete each other in the best way!
The earthy roasted poblanos and smooth velvety potatoes are the real stars here; the rest is just icing on the cake!
Tamales don’t always need a complicated side; sometimes, all you need is a nice, flavorful dipping sauce.
Salsa verde relies heavily on tomatillos, a tangy Mexican fruit that looks like little green tomatoes with a papery husk.
Similar to tomatoes but with a more sour taste, these fruits are of the same family.
This salsa packs a flavorful punch with its garlicky aromas, spicy jalapeno hints, and rich roasted tomatillos, making it the perfect complement to tamales, burritos, and other meat- and bean-heavy dishes.
23. Eggs With Salsa
The best way to round out a breakfast of tamales is with a fried egg and some flavorful salsa.
To enhance the savory, meaty flavor of your tamale, try topping it with some fried eggs.
That runny yolk in your tamale, oh my!
Imagine dousing your tamale in a mixture of salsa and egg yolk, then diving in.
For a more satisfying crunch, you can crisp up the edges as much as you like.
Oh, also add chili flakes or cayenne powder if you like things on the spicy side.
24. Fried Plantains
Ripe plantains, when fried, turn crispy and caramelized, and their sweetness is irresistible!
In fact, you could argue that this is the best pairing with tamales!
Because of the complementary sweet-salty and savory flavors, the fried plantain and tamales’ corn dough match each other perfectly.
Even before you take your first bite of tamale or plantain, the combined effect of flavors will have your taste buds tingling and asking for more!
You vegans out there are going to love this salad!
Amazingly refreshing, satiating, and entirely plant-based.
In place of “seafood” in this ceviche is palm leaves, making it one of the lightest, tastiest, and most balanced side dishes you can find.
To give the palm hearts that extra zip and edge, add some citrusy, zingy lime juice.
And here’s the best part: There isn’t even a single drop of oil in it!
This recipe is ready to impress if you want to up your coleslaw game!
Mangoes, fresh cilantro, cabbage, and jalapeño peppers make the most lively and oh-so-yummy slaw!
Mango’s natural sweetness and crispness, jalapeño’s subtle warmth, and crunchy cabbage add some exciting textures and flavor profiles.
Each mouthful is a real flavor extravaganza!
When matched with the tender meat filling of your tamales, the tartness, sweetness, and brightness of the sauce will be a match made in heaven!
For this meal, also known as Escabeche, the vegetables are soaked for at least an hour in a pickling liquid, brought to a boil and then placed in the refrigerator to cool.
This method produces crunchy, snappy vegetables with a lip-smacking tangy bite.
Pickling liquid’s acidity works wonderfully as a balance for rich and heavy flavors such as tamales.
Almost anything you add to the pickling liquid with its sweet and tart tinges will taste like a party!
Remember to de-seed your jalapenos before using them, or every vegetable you eat will have an overpowering smoky heat.
28. Kale Mango Salad
While a Kale Salad may not seem like the most conventional pairing with tamales, we recommend you give it a shot!
It’s an eclectic mix of textures and tastes.
The kale adds a bitter note, while mango lends its fruitiness, cilantro adds citrusy hints, and toasted pecans share a creamy, buttery touch.
Then an enticing dressing is used to bring the whole thing together.
Instead of using frozen mango, which turns mushy when thawed, it uses fresh ripe mangoes for a delightful layer of color and taste.
This is a great recipe, and it shines in the summertime when mangoes are at their purest.
Have you ever tried eating cacti?
If not, then you may try this one out!
The prickly pear cactus, also known as nopalitos for its paddle-shaped leaves, is not only edible but also tasty.
When cooked, they have a similar slimy texture to okra, although they can be easily rinsed off.
The young, sensitive paddles of the prickly pear cactus are a mainstay in Mexican cooking, while the cactus itself is common throughout the southern United States and the Mediterranean.
Cactus with bright green, plump paddles are best suited for this recipe; if the paddles have lost their color and are starting to fade, they are likely, not fresh.
Smaller, thinner paddles are best because they are younger and more delicate.
Though it’s not technically a side dish, I just had to include this all-time favorite Mexican beverage.
Those flavorful tamales would be perfect with a cup of something that offsets their richness.
It’s a hot drink made from masa harina served for breakfast and the holidays, often with concha (Mexican sweet bread) or delectable tamales.
If you’ve never had it, it’s like a thin, cinnamon-and-vanilla-flavored corn porridge sweetened with piloncillo (unprocessed cane sugar).
Drinking this delicious drink is like having a warm hug in a mug!
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!
- 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 & Avocado Soup
- Mexican Street Corn
- Jicama Slaw
- Guacamole Salad
- Feta-Stuffed Peppers
- Grilled Vegetable Skewers
- Caesar Salad
- Ranchero Sauce
- Papa's Con Rajas
- Roasted Salsa Verde
- Eggs With Salsa
- Fried Plantains
- Palmito Ceviche (Vegan Hearts Of Palm Ceviche)
- Mango Cabbage Coleslaw
- Mexican Pickled Salad
- Kale Mango Salad
- Ensalada De Nopales (Cactus Salad)
- Pick one or more options from our list of What To Serve With Tamales here!
- Start making your new favorite side dish for tamales.
- Share and comment! Did you make any changes to make it even better?