What to Serve with Tamales (Best Recipes to Pair!)

Nicole Austin

Our ideas for appetizers, sides, desserts, and drinks when deciding what to serve with tamales.

Tamales are a traditional dish in Central and Southern American countries that Aztec and Mayan cultures consumed thousands of years ago, possibly dating back to 8000 BC.

Tamales are still a staple in Mexican cuisine and have been passed on through generations as a true comfort food.

They're made out of masa harina and cooked in either corn husks or banana leaves, and often served with this wrapping, too.

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Today, we have modified them to contain several ingredients from our current diet, such as cheeses and various meats. While they have grown more complex over time, tamales still have that straightforward, somewhat rustic feel that people are drawn to.

However you have your tamal, this highly customizable and filling food will surely please!

Tamales as a Christmas Tradition

Tamales are a traditional food in Mexican households and are sometimes prepared at a tamalada, or tamale party.

As a historic food with deep cultural roots, tamales were highly favored because they were filling and very portable. Tamales were also considered a sacred food for the gods and were eaten on special occasions.

As people moved to various locations globally, they brought this traditional Mexican dish with them and continued to enjoy them on special occasions and holidays, particularly Christmas time.

Tamales, therefore, have come to represent the gathering of families. Large families often congregate to make tamales together in a group, creating an atmosphere of connection and celebration for the holidays both while preparing and eating this food.

Even though tamales are rich in Latin American culture and history, they have slowly become a tradition for many other people as well.

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What to Serve with Tamales on Christmas Eve

To round out your holiday meal, you may be looking for some ideas for other foods that complement your tamales.

Particularly if you’ve prepared them using more traditional methods and simple ingredients, you may be seeking to add some flavorful additions to your meal. 

You can offer tamales as the main course or as a delicious side dish of its own — it really depends on your complete meal plan.

People choose to top their tamales with all sorts of things — lime juice, cotija cheese, spicy salsa, Mexican crema, a dollop of sour cream, mole sauce, and more. It's up to you and your taste buds! 

Similarly, sometimes tamales are best enjoyed with something simple like agua fresca or pinto beans and white rice, but we want to offer you a broader range of ideas that may not be top of mind.

Here are our best recipes to complement your tamales, whether for Christmas or any time, from traditional Mexican sides to the perfect drink pairing!

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Appetizers to Serve with Tamales

Jalapeno Poppers

Not just a restaurant app or bar food, jalapeno poppers are an excellent spicy treat to serve with your Mexican dinner.

You can also make a unique jalapeno popper bread, which will surely be a conversation piece at the center of your serving table.

Cilantro Jalapeno Hummus

Spicy and bright, this cross-cultural cilantro-and-jalapeno-paired hummus is perfect for dipping with toasted pita bread or spreading over homemade soft flatbread

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Mexican Arancini with Avocado Cilantro Dipping Sauce

Arancini is a Sicilian street food, made of risotto that has been rolled into a ball, stuffed (typically with mozzarella cheese), breaded with breadcrumbs, and lightly fried to a golden brown.

Sound good? We think so, too.

This great side dish has been given a spicy, flavorful twist by using hot sauce, chili powder, jalapeno peppers, and shredded Mexican cheese. An avocado cilantro dipping sauce recipe is included to mellow out the heat and add extra flavor.

Jalapeno Jelly

Jalapeno jelly, served alongside cheddar and your choice of crackers, makes the blend of sweet, sour, and savory come to life.

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Side Dishes to Serve with Tamales

You'll love these great sides to go with your savory tamales!

Skillet Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread

Finely sliced jalapenos pair well with shredded cheese in a cornbread recipe modified for the skillet. This gives it a delicious, crispy touch that will contrast the smoother ingredients in your tamales.

Refried Beans and Rice

Refried beans are a perfect way to add protein to any Mexican dish without much fuss or effort. I love this recipe because it can be used as a side or filling for other dishes!

You can also make refried beans and rice in the skillet if you’re looking for another skillet recipe.

The vegetarians in your life will appreciate you making vegetarian refried beans. I love these because I try to mindfully eat more “meatless” meals and sides, and they taste just as good as the non-vegetarian options.

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Mexican Rice

Restaurant-style Mexican rice is a perfect side dish that can also be used as a burrito filling if you have leftovers. I love how easy it is to decide how spicy or mild you’d like it to be.

Mexican skillet rice is another very filling variation that covers all the bases when it comes to toppings and flavors. I like to use a pico de gallo on top with diced avocado, black olives, and fresh sour cream.

Slow Cooker Mexican Corn Cakes

Dip your toes into the world of Mexican side dishes with this really easy slow cooker recipe that makes the perfect fluffy, moist corn cakes.

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Mexican Street Corn

Mexican street corn is a popular side dish loaded with flavors and spices. The texture of the crema sauce adds to the hearty feel, and the presentation is stunning on a plate next to your favorite Mexican dish.

If you’re hosting a large group and want to make clean-up a breeze, consider modifying your street corn by using our Mexican Corn in a Cup recipe. Serve in a clear cup to showcase the various layers of ingredients you’ll be using. 

Mexican Street Corn Nachos are a fun way to turn your street corn recipe into the perfect side or appetizer. If you want to use up some leftover queso fresco that you’ve been storing in the fridge, this is the perfect way!

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Mexican Corn Pastry Cups

Rather than a biscuit or bread, these Mexican corn pastry cups are the perfect side to match the rest of your meal.

Topped with feta cheese and chile powder, the textures and flavors will entice your guests.

Mexican Corn Soup 

Soup is a perfect comfort food, especially in the colder months. This spicy corn and poblano soup has a smoky, rich flavor with just enough heat to satisfy, without being overwhelmed.

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Mexican Chicken Soup

If corn soup isn’t your calling, try this chicken soup with a Mexican twist.

To prepare with minimal time and effort, buy a rotisserie chicken and shred the meat.

Cilantro Tomato Avocado Salad

This light and airy salad is an excellent addition to your dinner plate, with loads of fresh vegetables and complementary flavors.

Learn how to chop cilantro perfectly to make your salad the best it can be!

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Clementine Arugula Salad

Bright and fruity clementine oranges work well in this flavorful arugula salad that pairs very well with tamales. Topped with our clementine salad dressing, this will be a favorite for many future meals.

Desserts to Serve with Tamales

Every delicious dinner deserves to be rounded out with the perfect dessert!

Here are our best recipes for desserts to pair with your tamales:

Mexican Brownies

Ground cinnamon and cayenne pepper make this brownie boast an added kick of excitement that guests will not expect!

For people who prefer a milder flavor, or for children, consider also offering another kind of brownie. We’ve compiled a ton of options to choose from, so check them out!

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Mexican Coconut Candy

Does a two-ingredient recipe sound too good to be true?

We thought so, too, before we tried out these Mexican coconut candies.

Sweetened shredded coconut and sweetened condensed milk pair together for an ultra-sweet flavor.

Similar to our chocolate macaroons and homemade Almond Joy cookies, this sweet treat will feel like its own brand of childhood and tradition!

Mexican Hot Chocolate Bread

Also perfect for a snack or breakfast, this sweet bread is a great dessert for the end of your Mexican meal.

Cozy, soft bread with a hint of vanilla surrounds a Nutella center pepped up with cinnamon for a unique flavor.

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Cinnamon Tortilla Chips

A light and fun dessert, cinnamon tortilla chips are a great option for something sweet and light at the end of a filling dinner. Reminiscent of churros, they’ll delight you with their familiar crunch and cinnamon sugar topping.

Baked Churro Donuts

Unique enough to surprise your guests but familiar enough to blend in effortlessly with Mexican cuisine, baked churro donuts will be the dessert nobody expects but everyone loves.

Top with no-churn churro ice cream or prepare it to serve as another side offering.

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With a wide variety of options, cookies — especially Christmas cookies — are ready to please every guest at your dinner table.

I love serving cookies because it allows guests to have as much or as little as they want, and they feel free to help themselves. There’s nothing worse than company feeling like they’re not welcome to enjoy a little extra serving.

Cookies also make it easy for guests to bring some treats home for later, or back to people who couldn’t make the trip to visit for dinner. I strongly recommend offering at least one type of cookie for every dinner party or holiday event.

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Alcoholic Beverages to Serve with Tamales

If you’re hosting adults or want to add some boozy fun to your party, we have plenty of alcoholic beverages to complement your Mexican-themed meal!

Boozy Mexican Chocolate Milkshakes

This is undoubtedly an unexpected combination of dessert and an adult drink. Topped with whipped cream, sprinkled cinnamon, and a cinnamon stick for a visual pop of appeal, Mexican chocolate milkshakes are a filling, smooth treat.

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Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cocktail

There's nothing like drinking your favorite cereal! This cocktail has notes of cinnamon and vanilla, which pair well with churros and similar recipes.

Caramel Cinnamon Martini

Like the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cocktail, this cinnamon-based martini has a caramel flavor blended in. To add more flavor, rim the glass with caramel sauce or drizzle a light amount into the drink.

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Rumchata Cinnamon Toast Latte

Creamy, frothy, and cozy, this latte comes together in minutes. The beautiful appearance, along with the delicious flavors, makes this latte a clear winner.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Shots

This sweet hot chocolate shot is served in a shot glass dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in shimmering sanding sugar. It’s spiced with cayenne pepper and topped with adorable mini marshmallows.

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Big Red Margarita

This sweet and fruity bright red margarita is perfect for Christmas with its bold coloring and welcoming flavors. Made with tequila, this pairs well with any Mexican dish by default. 

Learn all things tamale from us so you can make your own!

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Nicole is a self-published author of fiction novels, and a lover of food and spending time in the kitchen with her six children. She lives in coastal Maine where she loves exploring new recipes especially those that can save time, money and wow a crowd.

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