Although tamale is commonly associated with Mexico, other mesoamerican countries have versions of this iconic dish too. The variations are often in the filling: what one would mix with the masa. However, others also differ in the wrapping; although usually wrapped in corn husks, you can also use banana leaves.
But whichever way you make your tamale, there’s no doubt that it’s flavorful and heartwarming. These qualities make it a perfect partner for many simple Mexican side dishes. Take a look at these 13 sides if you need some ideas for what to serve with tamales.
Tamale is often served with sauce poured on top of it; usually, it’s salsa, the most iconic among Mexican side dishes. To every food it is paired with, salsa brings freshness, color, and soft textures. When done perfectly, there’s an excellent balance in the acidity, spices, and other flavors it brings. To achieve that, check out this recipe for easy, homemade salsa!
Technically, pico de gallo is also salsa, specifically known as salsa fresca or fresh salsa. It’s much chunkier and less saucy than the homemade salsa above because this recipe only dices the ingredients – it doesn’t puree it in a food processor. Thus, if you prefer a chunkier topping with fresher and simpler flavors, then this pico de gallo is best for you.
Guacamole is a famous Mexican dip made from avocados, which gives the dip its bright green color. As tamale is often topped with fresh avocado slices, you can quickly see how pairing it with guacamole is an excellent move. Besides the sweet and creamy flavors from avocados, you’ll also get hints of other flavorings, like coriander, jalapeno, lime, salt, and onion. You can have it either chunky or smooth.
Mexico’s version of sour cream, aptly called crema Mexicana, is an excellent topping for tamales. It imbibes the dish with creamy, smooth textures and an incredible complex of flavors consisting of tang and spice. The tang comes from the sour cream and lime, while the kick is from the chipotle powder, spicy and smokey chili. You’ll also need heavy cream to enhance creaminess.
5. Mole Sauce
If you like the combination of sweet, savory, earthy, and spicy, then you’ll love this recipe for mole sauce, Mexico’s national dish. Here are some things that go into it: onions, garlic, chilis (including jalapenos), cinnamon, cumin, oregano, almond butter, cocoa powder, and tomato paste. This smooth sauce goes well with an impressive range of Mexican treats, from tamales to enchiladas.
Different countries and cultures have their pickled recipes. For Mexico, one of the most unique is cebollas curtidas or pickled onions. It’s spicy and tangy and needs only a few ingredients: red or white onions, limes, vinegar, water, oregano, and salt. Preparation and marination take 15 minutes only, although it’s recommended to extend the marinating time to 1 hour for intense flavors.
If you find the spiciness from cebollas curtidas to be quite lacking, then make these chiles en vinagre or pickled jalapenos instead. Compared to other chilis, the spiciness of jalapenos falls somewhere in the middle – from mild to hot, depending on the peppers themselves. Thus, prepare to be surprised by the results of this recipe, which also calls for carrots, onions, garlic, vinegar, bay leaves, oregano, sugar, peppercorns, and salt.
Refried beans are creamy, rich, buttery, and full of protein and bean flavors. Although there are refried black beans – and they’re pretty popular – this one is made from pinto beans, hence the light brown color. Besides the beans, this dish derives its other savory flavors from onions, garlic, chili, cumin, cilantro, and lime juice.
Another way to bring beans into your Mexican meal is to pair tamales with frijoles borrachos. It’s known as drunken beans in English, which makes sense once you discover that it’s pinto beans combined with dark Mexican beer. Besides the beer, you’ll also have bacon, jalapenos, molasses, oregano, chili, cumin, lime juice, and more. This dish tastes rich and is almost like a soup.
A classic Caesar salad consists of romaine lettuce and croutons tossed in a special dressing. Like the classic, this Mexican Caesar salad has lettuce, a special sauce, and cheese. However, instead of croutons, you’ll have tortilla chips. There are also peppers, grilled chicken, corn, and lime. Overall, it’s very different from the traditional Caesar salad, but it’s what you need to complete your tamales meal.
Combine creamy, spicy, tangy, and juicy flavors by making this esquites or Mexican street corn salad recipe. It’s a lot like elote in a bowl; if you’re not familiar with that, it’s Mexican corn on the cob that’s creamy and spicy. This salad is also creamy because of the mayo, sour cream, and cotija cheese. Meanwhile, its spice comes from paprika, cumin, and chili.
If you’ve never thought you could eat cactus, the Mexicans are a couple of steps ahead of you as they make this ensalada de nopales or, quite literally, cactus salad. Don’t worry – it isn’t as prickly as you might imagine because the pricks are removed first. The salad tastes light and refreshing, and the textures are soft, tender, and crunchy.
Although more southern than Mexican, incorporating jalapeno peppers, a Mexican chili staple, into cornbread transforms it into a different dish. It’s still fluffy, moist, golden, and sweet, but every bite is packed with incredible heat and cheesy cheddar flavors. Also, if you serve this with tamales drenched in sauce, it does an excellent job of sopping up those juicy flavors.