“Simple ingredients treated with respect… put them together and you will always have a great dish.” – Jose Andres
We all have our favorite foods; our guilty pleasures; our comfort foods. Many people find it hard to say no to tamales and who could blame them? When made correctly, this dish reminds us of grandma’s home cooking, giving a sense of comfort and is certainly a treat for our taste buds.
While many may argue that tamales, as simple and humble as they are, are a stand-alone meal that does not require any assistance from accompaniments; it certainly does not hurt to “elevate” your meal with some side dishes. Not sure how to serve tamales? We’ve got some great side dish ideas for you. But first…
What Are Tamales?
Maybe you’ve heard of or seen tamales but are not clear on what they are exactly and how they are made. Originating in Mesoamerica (the area between North and South America), many Central and South American cultures have their own unique way of making tamales. However, the Mexican version of the tamale has become the best-known.
Basically, tamales are made of masa (corn dough) and filling, wrapped in corn husk or banana leaf and then steamed. The steaming process makes the masa firmer. The beauty of tamales is that they are portable food that can simply be unwrapped and eaten on the go. Tamales can be as simple as masa filled with beans and squash or can be more complex to include ingredients such as pork, chicken, olives, cheese and more.
How to Prepare Tamale Masa
Cornmeal is mixed with the broth of the meat cooked for the filling (or any other broth), baking powder, lard and your choice of seasonings to make a soft dough. The most common type of cornmeal flour used for masa is masa harina (also used for corn tortillas), but any type of cornmeal flour can be used. Masa harina has a specific flavor, and the lard added helps prevent the dough from becoming too dry.
The dough is then spread out over the dried corn husks (which have been soaked in water to make them pliable) to ¼ to ½ inch thickness.
Preparing the Tamale Filling
How you fill your tamales is completely up to you. From meat fillings to vegetable fillings or a combination of both, tamale filling options are limitless. Approximately 1 tablespoon of the cooked filling is placed in the center of the spread-out dough. The sides of the corn husk are then folded in towards the center.
Depending on their size, tamales are steamed for approximately 30 minutes; allowing the masa to become firm and the filling to be heated through. Normally, the wrapper is not eaten. Instead, it adds to the flavor of the tamale during the steaming process.
Side Dish Ideas for Your Tamales
Whether your tamales are simple or complex, vegetarian or made for the carnivores of this world, there is a perfect side dish to go with them. You may also want to know how to serve tamales during the festive season. We’ve got you covered.
- Guacamole Salad
If you’re hosting south-of-the-border themed dinner, guacamole salad is the perfect accompaniment when serving tamales. It’s super colorful – screaming “Fiesta!” Its bright colors liven up the otherwise neutral-colored tamale dish, which definitely helps in the presentation department – making your meal Instagram worthy.
The dressing is made by whisking together cayenne pepper, minced garlic, black pepper, salt, olive oil, and lime juice. Drizzle that over a mixture of lime zest, jalapeno pepper, red onion, black beans, yellow pepper, and tomatoes. Just before you are about to serve, fold in some diced avocado and serve at room temperature. Easy!
- Curtido (Pickled Cabbage Slaw)
Similar to sauerkraut or kimchi, curtido is El Salvador’s version of pickled cabbage slaw. Traditionally, curtido is fermented. However, if you are in a rush, you only need a few hours to let it slightly pickle. Here’s how it’s made:
In a large bowl, combine onion, carrot and cabbage. In a separate bowl, whisk together water, apple cider vinegar, salt, sugar, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano. Pour the wet ingredients over the cabbage mixture, cover, and refrigerate overnight or – if you are in a hurry – 2 hours.
Curtido is often served with papusas – a kind of thick, stuffed tortilla also made with masa harina. They make a perfect combination, and so will tamales and curtido.
- Jicama Salad
This salad is super refreshing and crisp and goes great with Mexican food. There are several ways to make it, but the thing that most recipes have in common is, of course, the crunchy, mild jicama cut into matchstick-sized pieces, and a fruity element – mango, lime or orange. Many recipes also include chilli powder.
Jicama salad with mango, cilantro, and lime is super simple to make. For the dressing, you will need to combine
- Cayenne pepper
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 limes, juiced
- ½ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Toss jicama, mango, red pepper, and red onion together in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the jicama mixture, toss, cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Enjoy!
Other Vegetable Sides
- Feta-Stuffed Peppers
This is sure to be a hit with vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Plus, using both red and yellow peppers gives a festive vibe your guests are sure to appreciate. It’s also easy to make (as all side dishes should be), and the filling also tastes amazing on its own or on toast. Just try not to eat it all – save some for the actual peppers.
Combine feta cheese with Greek yogurt, mashed garlic, salt, and chopped, fresh dill or parsley. Cut open your peppers and stuff them with this mixture. You can also roast your whole peppers beforehand if you wish. Finally, mix lemon juice and olive oil together and drizzle over the stuffed peppers. Super simple. Super tasty.
- Grilled Vegetable Skewers
The great thing about skewers or kabobs is that you can put literally any type of vegetable combination you wish. Plus, they are super healthy and are a great accompaniment to any dish.
In whichever order you like, stack your seasoned or marinated vegetables onto a skewer. Some vegetables you may want to use include zucchini, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes and more. You can also make a tangy dressing with balsamic vinegar or lemon, and olive oil. As long as you have vegetables, spices and skewers in your kitchen – you are good to go. Grill them in an oven preheated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit or chuck them on the grill outside.
- Black Beans and Rice
If you are still wondering how to serve tamales, you can always go with black beans and rice. This is another staple in Latin-American cuisine and works great with tamales.
Over medium-high heat, add oil to a large pot and stir in onions, garlic, cumin, peppers, and bay leaf and cook for a few minutes. Add in rice, beans, salt, pepper, vinegar, and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Leave to simmer until cooked.
- Mac and Cheese
That’s right. No one has ever complained about having mac and cheese in their meal. This is also a fun way to combine cultures. Why not throw a multi-cultural dinner? Hey, any excuse to have mac and cheese, right?
Of course, everyone has their way of making mac and cheese. Some include bacon; others add vegetables. Some opt for just good old mac and cheese – only. As long as it is seasoned correctly, there shouldn’t be any problems. Be sure to make the tamales the star of the dish. Choose your favorite mac and cheese recipe and serve.
- Ice Cream
Dessert tamales are a thing. The lard is simply replaced with butter and the filling could be something sweet such as pureed pineapples or raisins. Your spice options include cinnamon and nutmeg of course, and hey – you could even soak the raisins in some alcohol to really get the Christmas mood going.
Ice cream goes with almost any dessert and is something most people are happy to eat. If you want, you can make homemade ice cream. Alternatively, you can simply opt for the store-bought kind and pass it off as your own. No one will know the difference, and we won’t tell.
How to Serve Tamales: Keep it Simple
Although these are all great side dish ideas for your tamale meal, the options really are endless. We suggest keeping it simple and giving as many options as you can. Salads, grilled vegetables and simple sides that you would use in other dishes are bound to work – no matter what you choose. You could actually be taking more of a risk when opting for fancy, more complicated side dishes. Think of grandma’s cooking; it hardly ever is complicated. Instead, it is a combination of simple ingredients and simple recipes brought together to make one tasty dish made with a whole lot of love.
- Ideas for Serving Tamales – Son of the south
- What are some good condiments to go with tamales? – Quora
- Tamale Recipes: Find Your New Favorite This Holiday Season – HuffPost