Tamales are a Christmas tradition in Texas, but they are delicious all the time. If you are shaking up your Mexican food habits and moving beyond tacos, build a meal around tamales.
You can make them to suit any diet plan from vegan to carnivore and even dessert. Don’t feel limited by what is inside the tamales.
You can create a delicious meal with a variety of side dishes, sauces, and even drinks.
Try beef tamales for breakfast with an over-easy egg, home fries, and fresh fruit. A quick lunch of chicken tamales and garden salad will give you the staying power you need for the rest of the day. Try cheese tamales with steamed vegetables, roasted zucchini, street corn, and jicama slaw for a vegetarian option.
Serve pulled pork tamales with Mexican rice and refried beans for a traditional favorite at any time of day. And don’t forget dessert! Sweet corn tamales or fruit-filled tamales served with horchata or hot chocolate will round out your “Taco Tuesday” party.
Keep reading for a variety of ideas to make a filling breakfast, lunch on the go, an authentic dinner spread, and party foods to serve with tamales.
- What are Tamales
- What to Serve With Tamales for Breakfast
- What to Serve With Tamales for Lunch and Dinner
- What to Serve With Tamales on Christmas Eve
- What Sauces to Serve With Tamales
- What Vegetables are Best With Tamales
- What to Serve with Cheese Tamales
- What to Serve with Bean Tamales
- What to Serve with Vegetarian Tamales
- What to Serve with Sweet Corn Tamales
- What to Serve with Sweet Tamales for Dessert
- Final Thoughts
What are Tamales
Tamales are an ancient dish eaten by the Aztecs and Mayas in Mesoamerica. They are made by spreading a layer of corn dough (masa harina, broth, seasonings, and lard) in a soaked corn husk.
Traditionally, slow-cooked seasoned pork is added to the middle of the dough, then the tamale is rolled in the corn husk.
Once all the tamales are made, they are placed upright in a steamer and cooked for about 30 minutes.
When they are served, you remove the husk and eat the tamale with or without additional toppings and sides.
Because they are wrapped in a corn husk, they are a conveniently portable meal.
Tamales are incredibly versatile. You can fill them with any kind of slow-cooked tender meat.
Shredded seasoned beef, chicken, or goat are popular proteins. Some people just add cheese and green chiles in lieu of meat.
You could even fill a tamale with sauteed vegetables like bell peppers, sweet peppers, onions, tomatoes, chiles, or whole kernel sweet corn.
You can make vegetarian or vegan tamales by using vegetable broth or water along with vegetable shortening to make the masa dough.
What to Serve With Tamales for Breakfast
When you make tamales, you generally make enough to last for ages since they aren’t something that you just whip up on the spur of the moment.
They are easy to freeze and heat up individually later. You can pull a couple of tamales out of the refrigerator or freezer and pop them in the microwave for a hearty breakfast.
1.Fried Egg and Salsa
While you reheat your tamales, make an over-easy egg and pull your jar of homemade salsa out of the fridge.
Remove the husk, place the tamales on a plate and top them with your fried egg. Add a spoonful of your favorite salsa.
When you cut into the egg yolk, it will spread over the tamales in a rich sauce.
2.Fresh Fruit (With or Without Cream)
Since tamales are usually a savory and sometimes even spicy dish, fresh fruit is a refreshing side dish for breakfast.
You can serve a simple fruit salad just by cutting up some cantaloupe, strawberries, and pineapple.
Or you can make the fruit salad more complex by topping it with a creamy sauce. Mix ½ cup of Mexican Crema, ½ cup of sweetened condensed milk, ½ cup of plain yogurt, and a teaspoon of vanilla, and pour over your fruit salad.
You could even top it with some cinnamon or chopped pecans.
What could be better than some crispy on the outside, soft on the inside potatoes?
These make a hearty side for breakfast tamales (especially if your fried egg yolk spills over onto the potatoes) as well as any other meal.
Parboil some Yukon gold potatoes or new potatoes to get the cooking started.
Then cut them into cubes and sautee them in a heavy skillet with just a little olive oil. Season with garlic, salt, and pepper to taste.
What to Serve With Tamales for Lunch and Dinner
Of course, tamales are good any time of day. However, if you are having them for lunch or dinner, you may need some more substantial sides to keep you satisfied and alert for the rest of the day.
Mexican Sides to Serve with Tamales
Rice and beans are the two most common side dishes at Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants.
Serve your tamales with these reliable favorites and a side salad to lighten up the plate.
4. Charro Beans
Charro beans are pinto beans cooked in a rich broth with bacon, ham, or chorizo. Soak then cook your pinto beans as the package indicates, then add the cup up ham, bacon, and/or chorizo, diced tomato, jalapeno or chipotle peppers, garlic, cumin, and other seasonings to taste. Let it simmer for 20-25 minutes then serve with your tamales.
To make Mexican rice, you start by toasting the uncooked rice in a skillet with a tablespoon of oil until it is golden brown.
Then add in twice as much water as rice, tomato sauce, and seasonings like cumin, garlic, salt, and pepper.
Cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is soft. You can also jazz it up with some sauteed onion or peppers.
6.Cucumber Tomato Avocado Salad
This salad couldn’t be easier. Cut up cucumber, tomato, and avocado into bite-sized pieces.
Make a quick dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and cilantro or dill.
Crumble queso fresco or cotija cheese over the salad, drizzle on the dressing and toss to coat evenly.
What to Serve With Tamales on Christmas Eve
Because making tamales is a time-intensive process, they are often made in huge batches for special occasions.
Here in Texas, tamales are a traditional Christmas meal (and gift). Families will gather early in December for tamale-making parties and will make 30-40 dozen at a time.
Then they share or sell them by the dozen and the tamales are frozen until Christmas. Take a look at what you can make to serve with Christmas Tamales at your holiday party.
Appetizers to go With Tamales
Whether you are having a party, or just like to snack while you cook, these appetizers that pair well with tamales are sure to please.
Corn tortilla chips are a typical snack food or appetizer for Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine.
You can use the chips as a utensil to scoop up rice and beans, bites of tamale, or to scoop up all the kinds of salsa, guacamole, and queso at the party.
The grocery store is full of delicious salsa options. If your tamales are spicy, you may want to choose a mild salsa or one with some sweetness like a pineapple roasted tomato salsa or a mango tomatillo salsa.
On the other hand, if the tamales are mild, add a little heat with a serrano pepper salsa.
Fresh guacamole is easy to make and complements spicy hot tamales with its cool creaminess.
Mash a fresh avocado and stir in some seeded Roma tomatoes, finely diced onion, garlic powder, and a squeeze of lime or lemon to keep the mixture from turning brown.
10.Chile con Queso
The kind of queso that is a melted cheese sauce is an American invention. Despite its roots, it is delicious on Mexican foods including tamales.
You can make easy queso by melting Velveeta with a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes and green chiles.
Alternatively, you can make it from scratch by starting a roux with flour, butter, and evaporated milk.
Add in garlic, onion, Ro-tel, and your choice of grated cheese to make the queso to your own specifications.
If you want to add a little tangy taste to your tamales, add a few pickled jalapenos on top of the tamales and sauce.
You can also pour a little of the brine into your queso to spice it up.
Pickled red onions are beautiful and they add a sweet, tangy, fermented flavor to your dishes.
Like pickled jalapenos, you only need to sprinkle a few over the top of your place to punch up the flavor.
What Sauces to Serve With Tamales
After you unwrap the tamales and discard the corn husks, you may want to cover the tamales with sauce to add flavor and ensure they are moist and tender.
13.Cholula Hot Sauce
If you or your family members always need just a little more heat, set out some Cholula Hot Sauce.
It comes in a variety of flavors and heat levels so you are bound to find one that suits your taste.
14. Ranchero Sauce
Ranchero sauce is a thick red sauce made from tomato, jalapeno, onion, and a collection of chili powders. After cooking the ingredients in a saucepan, you will transfer the sauce to a blender or food processor, then blend until smooth. Pour this sauce over your tamales and top with a sprinkle of queso fresco or Cojita cheese.
15. Red Chile Sauce (Traditional Tamale Sauce)
This deep red sauce has all the flavors of the southwest in a simple sauce. It begins by roasting, then soaking 15 large dried chiles (New Mexico or Anaheim chiles). Then, you will blend the softened chiles with the soaking water and some garlic, cumin, and salt until it is nice and smooth. You will then make a roux and slowly add the blended chile mixture until it produces a thick, deep red sauce.
What Sauce is Best to Serve with Hot Tamales
If your tamales are spicy hot, you may want to choose a cool, creamy sauce to tone them down a bit. Mexican Crema is the obvious choice, but Tex-Mex sour cream sauce or Hatch green chile sauce are also good choices.
14. Mexican Crema
When your tamales are super spicy and you need to tame the heat, a dairy product is the best antidote.
If you don’t have Mexican Crema, you can make it at home or use sour cream instead.
15. Green Chile Sauce
Green chile sauce is absolutely stunning. If you can get them, Hatch Chiles are the ideal choice for this sauce. If Hatch chiles are out of season though, try Poblano or Anaheim chiles. Roasting the chiles is the key element of this green sauce. After roasting the peppers and sauteeing onions and garlic, simmer everything for 15 minutes in chicken broth. Use an immersion blender or transfer ingredients to a food processor and blend until it is smooth. Serve this sauce on your tamales, and everything else. It’s just that good.
16. Tex-Mex Sour Cream Sauce
Sour cream, chicken broth, and cheese form the base of this cool creamy sauce, making it the perfect choice for spicy hot tamales. This sauce is easy to make, only taking about 5 minutes. Mix the chicken broth and sour cream in a saucepan, then add in the cheese a little at a time stirring as it melts. Then add in a cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. Add a couple of teaspoons of pickled jalapeno juice for extra flavor.
What Vegetables are Best With Tamales
There is more to Mexican and Tex-Mex food than rice and beans. Try one of the following suggestions to add variety and nutrition to your tamale dinners.
17. Roasted Zucchini
While this is not a traditional Mexican dish, the seasonings give a hint of the southwest while adding a green vegetable to your meal.
Cut zucchini into thick slices then into quarters. Coat lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and salt to taste.
Roast in a 425-degree oven until golden and crispy. Just before serving, crumble cotija cheese or queso fresco on the top.
18. Black Beans and Pinto Beans
You can keep dry black beans and pinto beans almost indefinitely in your pantry, so it is easy to have them on hand.
Try cooking the beans with cumin, garlic, onion powder, salt, and pepper for a simple side dish.
Or, you can create a more complex side by adding red bell pepper, green chiles, or diced tomatoes.
19. Sauteed Vegetables
Soften up a pan full of bell peppers, red, green, and yellow, onion, and even some portabello mushrooms by sauteing them in olive oil. Sprinkle on a little garlic and squeeze a lime wedge over the veggies just before serving.
What to Serve with Cheese Tamales
Cheese tamales are a rich and filling option for a vegetarian dinner. They are delicious with rice and beans, of course, but you may want to add some vegetables to lighten up the dish.
20. Jicama Slaw
Cheese tamales only have masa dough, cheese, and maybe green chiles. So you need a light and refreshing side dish.
Try making jicama slaw. Jicama is a root vegetable that is slightly sweet. The texture is between a potato and a pear.
Combine shredded jicama, carrots, red bell pepper, and red cabbage. Make a dressing with olive oil, white vinegar, lemon or lime juice, sugar, chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste.
This slaw adds a cool light crunch to your rich cheese tamales.
21. Cucumber Avocado Soup
This bright green soup is a light and refreshing complement to cheese tamales. This soup is simple to make as all the ingredients are simply blended together in a food processor or blender, then refrigerated. Combine chicken stock, peeled cucumbers, greek yogurt, avocados, green onion, fresh dill, lime juice, cumin, salt, and pepper in your blender, and blend until smooth. Serve cold with slices of avocado.
22. Feta Stuffed Sweet Peppers
These stuffed peppers are a super easy appetizer or crunchy side dish to throw together. Pick up some small sweet bell peppers, cut them in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Fill with a mixture of cream cheese, feta, garlic powder, and dill. They only take a moment to make, but the fresh taste will keep you coming back for more.
What to Serve with Bean Tamales
If you have bean tamales for a vegetarian diet, you will want to stick with vegetarian side dishes like street corn.
On the other hand, if you eat meat, you might want the tamale to be the side dish. Serve them with grilled chicken or spicy skewered shrimp.
23. Street Corn
Street corn can be made on the cob or off in a baking dish. Simply grill or otherwise heat your corn, then sprinkle on a combination of chili powder, garlic, salt, and pepper.
Sprinkle with Cotija cheese crumbles and a drizzle of Crema.
24. Grilled Chicken
Marinate your chicken in olive oil, lime juice, garlic, cumin, chili powder salt, pepper, and oregano for up to an hour.
Cook your chicken on the grill for 6-7 minutes per side. Serve sliced as the main dish with tamales, rice, beans, and salad as the sides.
25. Spicy Shrimp Skewers
For your summer barbecue, try making shrimp skewers to serve along with bean tamales.
Clean the shrimp and set aside. Soak the skewers while you prepare the shrimp and the marinade.
Combine olive oil, minced garlic, fresh jalapeno, brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, onion powder, salt, and pepper, and lime juice in a bowl.
Thread the shrimp onto skewers and lay them in a baking dish. Cover with the marinade and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Then grill the shrimp and serve with rice and tamales on the side.
What to Serve with Vegetarian Tamales
You love tamales and other Mexican foods, but you prefer a vegetarian diet. No worries, you can still get the flavors you love. Start with vegetarian tamales, like those filled with cheese, sweet corn, or grilled vegetables. Then add a tasty vegetarian side dish for a complete meal.
26. Corn Chowder
Make this hearty, corn-based vegetable soup and pair it with tamales for an interesting take on a soup and sandwich combo.
Corn Chowder combines corn, red jacket potatoes, onion, poblano peppers, and southwest seasonings. Top it off with Crema, sour cream, or creme fraiche.
27. Grilled Vegetable Skewers
For some reason, putting anything on a stick makes it more fun to eat. Get the kids to eat more vegetables by serving up grilled veggie skewers with your tamales.
Cut corn cobs into 2-inch slices and work one to the middle of the skewer. Then add slices of zucchini, yellow squash, Poblano pepper, and red bell pepper on the skewer.
Season with cumin, chili powder, garlic, salt, and pepper. After grilling, sprinkle on some crumbled cotija cheese or queso fresco.
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28. Cilantro Lime Rice
White long-grain rice tossed with finely chopped cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice provide a fresh-tasting vegetarian side for tamales.
It has just enough seasoning for flavor, but not so much that it weighs down the overall flavor of the meal.
What to Serve with Sweet Corn Tamales
Sweet corn tamales are a mixture of masa harina, oil, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and pureed sweet corn.
Then the dough is all wrapped in softened corn husks and steamed for an hour and fifteen minutes. These sweet treats go with every meal as an entree or eat them for dessert.
29. Fried Eggs
For breakfast, pair sweet corn tamales with fried eggs. You could even unwrap the tamales and toast them in the skillet so they are crispy on the outside.
30. Refried Beans
The sweetness of the corn tamale will blend nicely with the earthy richness of refried beans.
Additionally, the combination of pinto beans and corn creates a solid nutritional foundation.
You can make a meal from sweet corn tamales and refried beans that costs very little but provides almost a day’s worth of nutrition.
Add some fresh fruit and an egg and it is almost nutritionally perfect.
31. Chile con Carne
We like to serve up a warm pan of cornbread with a rich bowl of chili. If you like your cornbread on the sweeter side, try replacing it with sweet corn tamales.
The sweet tender tamales will offset your spicy, rich bowl of chili.
Regardless of the filling (beef, pork, chicken, cheese), chile con carne adds extra protein and flavor to your plate of tamales.
You can serve spicy chili with milder tamales and mild chili with spicy tamales to keep the flavors in balance.
What to Serve with Sweet Tamales for Dessert
Sweet tamales start out with the same masa and corn husks as savor tamales, but then the only limit is your imagination.
Try making pineapple-raisin, strawberry cream cheese, or dulce de leche tamales for dessert.
Of course, you don’t have to stop there. Use other fruits, pumpkin, or chocolate to create your favorites.
32. Ice Cream
Serve a scoop of vanilla ice cream with dulce de leche (a type of caramel sauce) or Mexican Chocolate sauce.
Add a strawberry cream cheese tamale or a dulce de leche tamale for a warm bite to go along with the ice cream.
33. Mexican Hot Chocolate
Hot chocolate originated in Central America with the Mayas, although that drink was quite different from what we enjoy today.
At any rate, a warm mug of hot chocolate is the perfect pairing with dessert tamales.
Make your favorite hot chocolate recipe and add in cinnamon, ⅛ teaspoon of chili powder, and ⅛ teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
The extra heat from the chiles will warn you through and through.
If you are having tamales in the middle of summer, hot chocolate may not be the best option.
Instead, treat yourself to a glass of horchata with sweet dessert tamales. It is easy to make, though it does take a little time.
Horchata is a creamy smooth rice-based drink. You will be soaking some ingredients overnight, so plan ahead.
Horchata has rice, cinnamon, and almonds all blended together with evaporated milk, vanilla, milk, sugar, and water.
After blending, pour the mixture through a strainer into a pitcher. Serve over ice for a light summery drink.
Tamales are a perfect meal any time of the day. They can be the main dish with some welcoming sides like fried eggs and potatoes, rice and beans, or a fresh salad.
You may also see tamales as a side dish to accompany corn chowder, chili con carne, or grilled chicken.
Round out your tamale meal with a sweet dessert tamale and a cold glass of horchata.
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