What To Serve With Tamales? Barbara’s Guide For A Perfect Christmas Tamale Party

I do not have any Mexican ancestors that I know of, but I definitely have an unfathomable bond with Mexican cuisine. I like my food spicy; maybe there lies the secret why I cannot resist burritos, enchiladas, and tamales...mmm...

Excuse me please, I am already mouthwatering...

My boys and my hubby share my taste in food, and I have thus decided to make them a themed Christmas party this year. Can you guess the theme?

Of course, I will throw a Christmas tamale party!

Many Mexican families have a tradition of making tamales for Christmas. They all gather around and pitch in to make this delicious meal as it requires a lot of work. After all, in this way, they spend more time together, and that is the main point of the holidays, isn’t it?

I hope that this year I will have some help hosting a Christmas party too, but before I move on to making this Mexican specialty, I first need to discover what to serve with tamales as well.

I do not have a lot of time till Christmas, so let’s see what I can do to make this holiday party special for everyone!

Making Tamales: My favorite Tamales Recipes

There is no need for lying, you probably already know that tamales are not easy to make - not at all! You need to make the dough and the filling; then you have to wrap each tamale in a husk or banana leaf (previously soaked of course), and then finally steam tamales and serve them. I shred at the thought of it all!

Fortunately, the good thing about tamales is that you can do quite a lot ahead of time.

For example, I always prepare the sauce and filling at least one day ahead. When it comes to folding tamales I make that a group activity - I call my friends or gather the men of the house, and we all do it together. It's a great opportunity to chat and enjoy time spent together with the people you love.

How To Wrap A Tamale Video:

Once you load up the steamer with tamales, all you can do is wait. However, as soon as the eating part comes, you forget all your troubles and enjoy the rewards.

Believe it or not, I have found my favorite tamales online at NYT Cooking. This recipe for Mark Bittman’s Tamales might not be appropriate for the newbies, but an average cook should have no trouble succeeding at it. 

You will have to set apart about two hours of your time, so I recommend calling some friends or your family to give you a hand and speed things up. Throw in a couple of margaritas, and you can even call it tamales making party!

If you prefer vegetarian tamales, or you simply want to try something different and not so traditional, you can try and make Mushroom Tamales with Mole Verde by Kate Ramos. They are lighter and have a milder taste that becomes even better with time (so try to make them a day or two before you plan to serve them to your guests).

Further Reading: Learn How To Store Mushrooms

Bonus: How to store tamales

If you decide to prepare your tamales ahead and have time to enjoy your Christmas without all the mess and fuss required to make them, you will be glad to know that tamales can be refrigerated for a week or so.

You first need to allow them to cool, wrap them tightly and place them in an airtight container and they will remain almost as good as new.

When you decide to reheat them, you have two options:

  • Reheating tamales in the frying pan: This method is more convenient when you are reheating only a few tamales. Heat one-quarter of a cup of water in your frying pan and add the tamales wrapped in the corn husks or leaves. Cover and let it simmer for at least five minutes or until heated throughout.
  • Reheating tamales in the steamer: When you need to heat the entire batch of tamales, you can employ the same steamer you have used to cook them. Steam the tamales for about half an hour and enjoy them warm! 

Further Reading: Find The Best Steamer Basket Here.

What to Serve with Tamales?

Most of us eat tamales on their own, usually on the go. However, when you want to serve them as the main dish at the dinner party, you have to be more creative and come up with a side dish, salad, or at least a sauce that goes with tamales.

Rice is a common choice in Mexico, so you can go with that simple solution as well. Beans are traditionally served with tamales in northern parts of Mexico, so if you seek for an authentic experience, you can serve yours with refried beans too.

When I visited Texas, I was served tamales alongside chili, and if you remember my passion for spicy food, you can imagine how thrilled I was. I often do that at home now too - I cook my favorite chili and serve it with tamales.

As far as sauces are concerned, there is an array of different recipes you can choose from and make the tamales more fun. I plan to make several sauces for my Christmas party so that everyone can choose their favorite flavor.

Mole sauce is a traditional choice, and you can choose between a mole negro, made with chilies and chocolate, and a mole verde which features green chilies, green tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds.I plan to serve both.

You can also take a simpler and more American approach and make a plain chili sauce or salsa. I personally like how tomatillo salsas go with tamales. American sour cream is also a good idea, especially if you add some cilantro, a few drops of lime juice and one clove of garlic into it.

Whatever sauce you choose, make sure you do not serve it cold. Why? Well, it can be quite unappetizing. Therefore, my advice is to heat your sauce bowls by placing them in your oven (at 200 degrees) for a couple of minutes. 

Kate Ramos from TheKitchn.com has a great suggestion I will surely try out as well. She proposes to serve tamales with a Cilantro-Jalapeno Jicama Slaw. I think that a healthy, crunchy slaw is a great and colorful addition to tamales. Her recipe serves up to eight people and is thus a great choice for dinner parties such as the one I am planning for Christmas.

How to Serve Tamales

Let's assume that you have all your tamales, side dishes and sauces ready, now all you need to do is serve them. The presentation is an important part of hosting dinner parties especially on holiday as important as Christmas. People always expect more on such occasions.

For me that does not represent a problem, quite the opposite, engaging in the presentation process is one of my biggest joys when cooking. Many people simply open tamales up and serve them on the husk or the leaf.

I prefer placing tamales on a serving plate as that way I can use the white plates as my painting canvas. For my Christmas party, I plan to leave my tamales wrapped so that people can open them up like little presents. Moreover, keeping them closed will prevent them from drying too.

It would also be wise to serve tamales buffet-style as that will leave you with the least mess to clean (no plates to wash either!). You simply throw all the tamales on a large platter, pour sauces in little bowls, distribute some banana leaves instead of plates, and you are done.

Rice and beans can be shaped into whatever you feel inspired for. My plan is to make rice snowmen on each plate. I will use chilies, carrots and other veggies to add details, color, and texture to my Christmas-inspired presentation.

Related Article: Are Tamales Gluten-Free?

Final Thoughts

Now that you know all there is about making tamales and what to serve with tamales all there is left for you to do is make an artistic impression. It does not matter if you are making this Mexican dish for holidays or not, it is a chance for you to be creative and have fun

You can mix and match various ingredients until you find your perfect combination. Try to use a range of colors to add interest to your tamales too. If your filling is green go for a red sauce and vice versa.

Be careful with spices though, use them sparingly or separate them from the main dish so that your guests can use them according to their personal taste. Not everyone will appreciate hot tamales, believe me, I have made that mistake in the past!

I hope I have inspired you to try to make tamales during this holiday season! If you have some advice for me, I will be glad to hear it! 🙂

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

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