Mexican side dishes lean towards simple but tasty, making them ideal when you need to prepare meals in a hurry. Here are our favorite Mexican side dishes, along with some suggestions for varying them up.
Mexican Side Dishes
One thing you’ll note in these recipes is that they ask for a lot of cilantro. That’s part of Mexico’s cultural heritage, so it’s no surprise that the herb winds up in so many of their side dishes. If you don’t like cilantro – or just can’t get as much as they ask for – swap it for flat leaf parsley, oregano, and a little bit of honey. This will provide a similar flavor with more familiar ingredients.
Mexican Corn Salad
This spicy buffet-style bowl is a great way to get corn into your diet.
Total Time: 10 Minutes
- 6 ears of corn, kernels cooked and stripped (about 4.5 cups)
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup cotija or feta cheese, with extra for garnishing
- Juice of 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped, with extra for garnishing
- 1 tablespoon chili powder, with extra for garnishing
- Kosher salt
In a large serving bowl, toss the corn together with the mayonnaise, cheese, lime juice, cilantro, and chili powder. Sprinkle salt generously over the top.
Add the extra cheese, cilantro, and chili powder as a garnish on top, to taste. Voila! This side dish is done.
Variations: This dish leans strongly on the freshness of the corn. Canned corn is acceptable but won’t be nearly as good as fresh corn you cook yourself. If you don’t like the heat, you can omit the chili powder. For a more succulent flavor, thoroughly cook some onion, then chop it into small pieces and add it to the salad.
Black Bean Soup
Black bean soup is a hearty staple across much of Mexico – and it’s not hard to taste why. This recipe is a little more complex than some, but the extra ingredients provide a rich flavor that will have people clamoring for more of your Mexican side dishes.
Total Time: 35 minutes
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 finely chopped medium red onion
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced jalapeños
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- Kosher salt
- Fresh black pepper, ground to taste
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 45 ounces (usually 3 cans) of black beans, with liquid
- 1 quart low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, as preferred
- 1 bay leaf
- Sour cream
- Sliced Avocado
- Chopped fresh cilantro
Set a large pot over medium heat and add the oil. When it’s hot, add the onion and cook until translucent and soft, usually 5 minutes. Add the jalapeños and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste, stir thoroughly, and cook for another minute. Stir in the salt, pepper, chili powder, and cumin.
Add the beans, the liquid from the bean cans, and the chicken broth. After stirring, add the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow it to reduce slightly over 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.
With a food processor or immersion blender, blend the soup to your preferred consistency. Serve with the sour cream, avocado, and cilantro, to taste.
Variations: Black beans go extremely well with epazote, an herb sometimes referred to as Mexican tea. Adding one teaspoon of dried epazote with the cumin can help bring out the full flavor of this dish.
Cilantro Lime Rice
This flavorful, easy dish is an outstanding match for fish dinners or other times when citrus flavors will fare well at the table.
Total Time: 30 minutes
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Juice of 2 limes, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup basmati rice (uncooked)
- 2 cups purified water
- 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
Melt the butter in a large pan over low heat. Add juice from one lime (about 2 tablespoons), the salt, and the rice. Stir for one minute. Add the water and bring it to a boil.
Reduce to a simmer and cover, cooking for 22 to 25 minutes or until the rice is tender. Fold in the cilantro, then add the rest of the lime juice and serve with the rest of the meal.
Variations: Lime goes well with strawberries, tropical fruits, plums, ginger, apples, and cherries. You don’t want to mess with this recipe too much – adding too many ingredients can throw off the rice – but you should try to have at least one of these other ingredients with your meal.
Steak Skewers With Mexican Corn Couscous Salad
Yes, this is a side dish – though we won’t blame you if you want to make it a full meal instead! Somehow managing to be both light and filling, this dish is ideal for warm summer evenings.
Total Time: 30 minutes
- Kosher salt
- 3 ears corn on the cob, shucked and rinsed
- Lots of ice
- 2 cups chopped sugar snap peas
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 limes
- Bamboo skewers, soaked in water
- 1 1/2 pound flank steak, sliced thinly
- 1 package Israeli couscous, prepared as instructed on its box
- 1/2 cup crumbled Cotija cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 cup chopped cilantro, with extra for garnishing
Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil, seasoning generously with salt. Add the corn, then turn off the heat and cover for five minutes. While the corn is cooking, prepare a large bowl of ice water. Remove the corn from the hot water with tongs and transfer to the ice water, removing them again when cooled.
Keep the pot of hot water where it is and add the snap peas, cooking for two minutes. Repeat the cooling process in a new bowl of ice water.
Remove the kernels from the corn and discard the cobs, then cut the peas into 1/2 inch pieces. Set these aside.
In a small bowl, thoroughly combine the vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, the zest from one lime, and the juice from two limes (about two tablespoons).
Preheat a grill to medium-high, then thread the sliced steak onto the soaked skewers. Drizzle with olive oil to taste (not with the mix you just made!), and season with salt and pepper. Cook for three minutes on each side. Transfer the skewers to a plate and put a tent of foil over them.
Mix the couscous, cheese, chili powder, cilantro, corn, peas, and dressing together. Serve alongside the skewers and garnish with cilantro to taste.
Variations: The best variations on this dish come from changing the meat. Some people like to add lime juice (or another citrus) to the steak before it cooks or marinate the steak overnight with another flavor. If you go heavy on the citrus flavor, consider serving the meal with tropical fruits.
Sweet Corn Tomalito
This steamed corn pudding is easy to make and works as a good pair with most other Mexican dishes. (Maybe avoid having it with the Mexican Corn Salad, though. That would be a lot of corn.)
Total Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
- 5 tablespoons softened margarine (not butter)
- 1/2 cup masa harina (a type of Mexican flour)
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed to room temperature
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 teaspoons milk
In a medium bowl, mix the margarine, masa harina, and sugar until they’re light and fluffy. This usually takes a little while. Once it’s ready, set it aside and blend one cup of corn kernels with the water and cornmeal until smooth. You can use a food processor or a blender for this. Once it’s ready, stir it into the masa harina mix.
Mix in the rest of the corn, the baking powder, the salt, and the milk, continuing to mix until the batter is smooth. Add it to a double boiler.
Cover tightly with aluminum foil and steam the mix in the double boiler for 50-60 minutes, until it’s firm. Check the water on occasion and refill (preferably with hot water) if needed. Stir before you serve, and hand it out in small scoops.
Variations: Cutting down the sugar to 1/4 cup in this recipe creates a good base that can be used for everything from taco filling to spreading over meat. Do not substitute any other type of flour for the masa harina.
Featured image: CC0 Creative Commons, jenniferva via https://pixabay.com.