The enchiladas I share this week in my Twice as Tasty column for the Flathead Beacon have become household favorites. And that all started with the sauce. Before I began making my own enchilada sauce, I occasionally attempted this rich, cheesy dish when we wanted comfort food, but I never quite nailed the technique of getting the tortillas in that just-right place, ending up with ones that were mushy or crunchy. Then I found a sauce recipe I love and started putting up jars of it, which led me to track down the technique that keeps the tortillas soft and intact, making them the perfect vehicle for the homemade sauce.
The recipe I share here lets you make this delicious sauce in a smaller batch without the effort of canning it. If you fall for this sauce like I did, you can make a larger amount to process in a boiling water bath using the instructions in Tips & Tricks. The enchiladas themselves can have all sorts of fillings: as we transition from summer to fall, my favorite pairs homegrown summer squash with sautéed shrimp.
Learn more about preparing enchiladas and get the complete recipe for Shrimp and Summer Squash Enchiladas in my column.
Twice as Tasty
The handful of simple ingredients in enchiladas make the dish a great showcase for homemade sauce. I prefer a Mexican-style sauce, heavy on tomatoes for a red sauce and tomatillos for a green one, to a Tex-Mex version of powdered chilies thickened with roux. Many spices can flavor the sauce, there are many ways to prep and save it.
When making a tomato-based sauce, choosing the approach that will work best for you depends on the produce and tools in your kitchen:
- Food strainer plus tomato bumper crop. I inherited a food strainer and my tomato plants have exploded this year: I harvested 45 pounds of tomatoes in one day, and they just keep coming. So I make and can large batches of enchilada sauce to use all year. The recipe that follows, based on the enchilada variation of Bernardin’s Picante Sauce recipe, is safe for water-bath canning, so I typically quadruple the recipe, often milling many pounds of tomatoes for other canned sauces while the strainer is set up. The tomatoes are quartered and processed raw through the food strainer to remove cores, peels, and seeds.
- Food mill plus a bag of tomatoes. A food mill, like the ones I recently researched for The Spruce Eats, works slightly differently from a food strainer: The food mill usually sits over a pot or bowl and separates skins and seeds after tomatoes have been cooked just until soft. The end result is the same: seed-free tomato puree. Food mills generally have a smaller capacity, so it’s an ideal tool if you’re only making a single batch of enchilada sauce.
- Hand-peel a few tomatoes. If you don’t have a food strainer or mill, you can still make this sauce by dropping whole tomatoes in a pot of boiling water to blanch for 30 seconds. The skins will then easily slip free of the tomatoes. Core them, tear them in half, and squeeze out the seeds; I do this into a colander set over a bowl so that I can collect the juice and tomato flesh, which can then be pureed with an immersion or upright blender or food processor. This approach is faster than you might think but could be tedious with a bumper crop.
- Buy passata. Tomato passata has been premilled for you. The folks at Healthy Canning make a good argument for buying this sauce if you don’t have access to homegrown or local tomatoes or are making the sauce out of season. Passata is raw or lightly cooked, just like the tomatoes you would strain or mill yourself, so it’s thinner than store-bought cans of tomato paste or sauce and lacks the seeds in commercially canned diced or crushed tomatoes. This Italian staple might be hard to find in U.S. stores outside specialty shops.
However you prep the tomatoes, you’ll want 2 cups of tomato puree free of seeds and skins for a single batch of this enchilada sauce.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 4 main ingredients plus vinegar, some spices, and some kitchen staples.
1. Cook the vegetables.
2. Add the initial seasonings and puree.
3. Cook the mixture until thick.
4. Add the final spices and use or store.
Homemade Enchilada Sauce
about 1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup coarsely chopped yellow onion
6 tablespoons coarsely chopped green bell pepper
4-1/4 teaspoons finely chopped jalapeño peppers
1 teaspoon minced garlic
5 tablespoons malt vinegar (5% acidity)
1-1/4 teaspoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon Morton pickling salt or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes or crumbled smoked dried chilies
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1-1/4 teaspoons crumbled dried basil (optional)
Measure out the tomato puree (prepared as explained earlier) and set aside. Set a wide pot over medium heat and add a tablespoon of water. Stir in the onion, cover, and cook for 5 minutes, until the onion is tender, stirring often and adding a tablespoon of water as needed to prevent sticking. Uncover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 5–10 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are caramelized. Add the bell pepper, jalapeño, and garlic. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt, and dried chilies. Remove the mixture from the heat and puree using an immersion blender. Alternatively, carefully puree in an upright blender or food processor and then return the puree to the pot.
Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat; boil gently, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, and as the sauce thickens, partially cover the pot to avoid splatters. Add the coriander and cumin; continue to boil as needed, for up to 10 minutes, until the desired consistency is reached. Stir in the basil, if using, and then remove from the heat. Use immediately for Shrimp and Summer Squash Enchiladas or let cool to room temperature before refrigerating for up to 5 days. Makes about 2 cups.
Tips & Tricks
- This recipe, as written, is safe for canning, but it may need to cook for up to 75 minutes if making a large batch. Ladle the hot sauce into hot half-pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes, plus your altitude altitude adjustment.
- Enchilada sauce can also be frozen. Let it cool, and then freeze the sauce in 1-cup portions, leaving space for expansion in the container. Frozen sauce is best used within 3 months.
- Enchilada sauce is also delicious on huevos rancheros or in quesadillas. Stir it into Homemade Sour Cream for a quick dip or rice for a variation on Spanish-Inspired Fried Rice.
Want more Twice as Tasty recipes? Get my books! Click here to order a personally signed, packaged, and shipped copy of The Complete Guide to Pickling directly from me. I also share tasty ways to use pickles in The Pickled Picnic; it’s only available here.