What To Serve With Tamales – 7 Perfect Side Dish Ideas

Tamales are becoming more and more popular. You will likely see them at your local diner, Sunday fair or market, and even grocery store. On their own, tamales are pretty great, but they are that much better with the right side dish.

Keep reading here to find out the best side dishes for tamales and when to prepare these side dishes.

What Are Tamales?

Tamal is a dish that transcends nations in Latin America. It often consists of corn dough and a filling wrapped with a banana leaf or corn husk. The corn dough is cooked by steaming the leaf or husk, which makes it firmer.

To eat tamales, you should unwrap and only eat the corn masa. Some tamales can contain beans, chicken, beef, pork, or vegetables. In some cases, they might also have cheese and be served with salsa or aji.

Tamales are popular across Latin America with a few variations. In most cases, the corn masa is made by mixing the cornmeal flour with broth, lard or butter, and seasonings. Tamales are a traditional food in Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia, and Venezuela.

Nutrition Facts

One medium tamale with meat (128 g) has the following nutritional content (*):

  • 275 calories
  • 78.4 g water
  • 11 g protein
  • 17.5 g fat
  • 18.9 g carbohydrate
  • 1.54 g fiber
  • 0.512 g sugar
  • 66.6 mg calcium
  • 0.691 mg iron
  • 30.7 mg magnesium
  • 145 mg phosphorus
  • 164 mg potassium
  • 591 mg sodium
  • 10.6 µg selenium
  • 2.56 µg vitamin A
  • 51.2 mg cholesterol

While tamales are very tasty, they can be somewhat high in fat and carbohydrates. You can add more chicken or vegetables to make your tamales more nutritious. Serving a smaller piece can also make the meal healthier.

What Goes With Tamales

Below are some options for side dishes that you can serve with tamales at any time!

#1. Yellow Rice with Peas

Yellow rice with peas might be a classic dish for many families, particularly Latin American ones. You can always count on this recipe to bring you back to a feeling of warmth and happiness, especially when served with tamales.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup rice
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon dry oregano
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 can of green peas, drained
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Follow these steps to prepare your yellow rice with peas:

  1. Start by cleaning and dicing your onion. Set it aside.
  2. Drain your can of peas, and set them aside as well.
  3. Stir in the rice, turmeric, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper. Cook for two minutes while continuing to mix.
  4. Stir in the broth and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the saucepan and reduce the heat.
  5. Simmer your rice for about 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Stir in the peas, and using a fork, fluff the rice. Continue simmering for five more minutes.
  7. Serve your yellow rice with peas warm with tamales on the side.

#2. Black Beans with Sofrito

Beans will always go with tamales, especially when they are made with tasty ingredients. These black beans with sofrito are perfect for any type of tamale you serve.


  • 2 cans of black beans, drained
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Follow these steps to prepare your black beans with sofrito:

  1. Drain the black beans and set them aside.
  2. Wash, clean, and dice your vegetables.
  3. Pour the olive oil and garlic into a saucepan. Add the yellow onion, and cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook for another 5 to 8 minutes.
  5. Stir in the black beans and reduce the heat. Cook for a couple more minutes.
  6. Serve your black beans with sofrito warm next to your tamales.

#3. Fried Plantains with Sour Cream       

Fried plantains go well with anything but especially tamales. You can serve them with sofrito, hogao, aji, or sour cream.


  • 2 ripe plantains
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ⅓ cup sour cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Follow these steps to prepare your fried plantains with sour cream:

  1. Peel and slice your plantains. Set them aside.
  2. Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, and cumin in a bowl.
  3. Toss the plantain slices with the sugar mixture until they are fully covered. 
  4. Pour the oil and garlic into a saucepan.
  5. Add as many of the plantain slices as you can fit them without overcrowding the space. Cook the plantains for three minutes on each side.
  6. Repeat the process until all plantains are ready.
  7. Remove the plantains and place them on a plate with a paper towel.
  8. Serve your fried plantains warm with some sour cream on the side or top.

#4. Mexican Watermelon Salad 

A watermelon salad might sound weird, but it does not have to be. If you have tried a Mexican watermelon salad, then you know there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, and it is delicious.


  • 6 cups seedless watermelon chunks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ lime, juiced
  • ½ tablespoon Tajin or ¼ teaspoon chili powder and ½ teaspoon celery salt
  • ¼ cup queso Blanco or fresh cheese
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • ½ red onion, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Follow these steps to prepare your Mexican watermelon salad:

  1. Peel, clean, and cut your watermelon into chunks. Set them aside in a bowl. 
  2. Peel and chop your red onion and cilantro. Transfer them to the bowl.
  3. Drizzle your chunks with olive oil and lime juice. Toss well.
  4. Add the Tajin, salt, and pepper. Toss again.
  5. Crumble your queso Blanco or fresh cheese and toss once more.
  6. Cover your salad and place it in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
  7. Serve your Mexican watermelon salad cold on the side of the tamales.

#5. Lemon Garlic Shrimp      

If you happen to be eating vegetarian tamales, you might want an extra kick of protein to make the meal more filling. This lemon garlic shrimp recipe is healthy and very tasty.


  • 2 ½ tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups shrimp, deveined and peeled
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon dry oregano
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Follow these steps to prepare your lemon garlic shrimp:

  1. Begin by cleaning, deveining, and peeling your shrimp. Set them aside.
  2. Add the butter to a large skillet. Once bubbly, add the garlic.
  3. After a couple of minutes, stir in the shrimp, lemon juice, oregano, salt, and pepper.
  4. Cook the shrimp for at least three minutes on each side or until pink.
  5. Stir in the cilantro and parsley. Toss well and cook for two more minutes.
  6. Serve your lemon garlic shrimp warm with tamales on the side.

#6. Mexican Cobb Salad  

What better way to pair your tamales than with a delicious Mexican cobb salad? You will be full and happy after trying this salad.


  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup Mexican mix cheese
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 can of sweet corn, drained
  • ½ red onion, sliced
  • 1 Hass avocado, peeled and sliced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Follow these steps to prepare your Mexican cobb salad:

  1. Begin by cooking the bacon on a skillet. Remove it once it is crispy, set it on a plate lined with paper towels, and let it cool down.
  2. In the meantime, cook your eggs by placing them in a pot with hot water and salt. Allow the water to boil, then reduce the heat, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes.
  3. Once the eggs are ready, transfer them to a bowl with ice water.
  4. Wash and chop your tomatoes and onion, and place them in a large bowl.
  5. Peel, pit, and slice your avocado, and transfer it to the bowl.
  6. Drain your can of corn, and place the corn in the bowl too.
  7. When your bacon is cool, use kitchen scissors to cut the strips into cubes and add these to the bowl.
  8. Peel your eggs, then chop them into slices or cubes. Add them to the bowl.
  9. Stir in the lime juice, salt, and pepper.
  10. Toss your Mexican cobb salad and serve it cold next to the tamales.

#7. Flan   

Flan is a traditional Latin American dessert that accompanies all types of meals. In this case, serving a flan after your tamales can be a great palate cleanser that is also very flavorful.


  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 ½ package cream cheese
  • 1 can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 can of evaporated milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • Pinch of salt

Follow these steps to prepare your flan:

  1. Begin by preheating the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Add the sugar and water to a saucepan. Cook for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until the sugar thickens.
  3. Pour the sugar mixture onto a baking dish and set it aside.
  4. Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until it becomes smooth.
  5. Add the eggs to the cream cheese, one at a time, beating continuously.
  6. Stir in the condensed milk, evaporated milk, vanilla extract, and salt. Beat some more.
  7. Pour the egg mixture over the sugar mixture on the baking dish.
  8. Pour boiling water onto a larger baking dish. Place the flan baking dish on top of this baking dish.
  9. Bake your flan for about one hour or until the center is set.
  10. Remove the flan from the oven. Let it cool for one more hour, and then refrigerate. 
  11. To serve, remove the flan from the mold and serve it inverted.
  12. Cut your flan into wedges and serve them after you finish your tamales.

How Can I Pick The Perfect Side Dish?

Tamales are a fantastic dish that can be served as early as breakfast and as late as dinner. You can always enjoy them on their own, but also with a delicious side dish. Enjoy your tamales with any of these recipes to make your meal more wholesome.

For vegetarian tamales, you might want to go with a side dish that is denser. Try the lemon garlic shrimp that is healthy but high in protein. You can go with the black beans with sofrito that is high in fiber and a good protein source.

If you are serving pork, beef, or chicken tamales, you can go with a slightly less dense side dish. Try the yellow rice with peas, which can also contain beans if you want. Fried plantains with sour cream are always a good choice too.

For all other tamales, including those with beans, you might want to choose a fresher recipe. You can go with the Mexican watermelon salad that is very fresh and unique. The Mexican cobb salad is a bit heavier but always tasty and satisfying.

Finally, you can serve a homemade flan with any tamal too!


Tamales are something that everyone should try at least once. You can enjoy them in all shapes and forms, but why not serve something equally flavorful with them? Try one, two, or three of these recipes next time.

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*image by Leckerstudio@gmail.com/depositphotos

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