I’ve been working on my enchilada game lately, for both the cookbook and my next blog post (coming Monday!). There is an art to making great enchiladas, and the sauce is a key component.
I thought I’d share my tested and perfected enchilada sauce recipe today, in case you want to try it on your favorite enchilada recipe. It’s ready in under ten minutes, and I promise, it’s so tasty you won’t want to go back to the store-bought kind again. As a bonus, unlike the canned varieties, this homemade sauce is free of unnecessary processed ingredients and MSG (that’s monosodium glutamate, which gives my mom migraines).
When I developed my go-to sauce (first seen on my spinach artichoke enchiladas), I tried at least five of the top sauce recipes on Google, all with different ingredients and techniques. I tried making sauce with tomato sauce, which tasted too raw and was kind of goopy. I tried making sauce with blended diced tomatoes, and it had the same issues. I tried sauce without any tomato ingredients, and it didn’t taste quite like the enchilada sauce I grew up eating, or the sauce at my favorite Mexican restaurants. I tried sauces made without any thickener (like flour or cornstarch), and they pooled at the bottom and turned my enchiladas into a soupy, texture-less casserole.
Finally, after some experimentation and cross-referencing with America’s Test Kitchen, I landed on the perfect sauce. Vegetable broth forms the base of the sauce, but it’s only added after you make a simple roux of flour and oil. You need a full three tablespoons of each to properly thicken the sauce. I tried making this sauce with a gluten-free flour blend and that worked great as well.
This sauce is full of authentic Mexican flavor, thanks to a combination of dried spices, which are sautéed in oil to bring out their best, and umami-rich tomato paste. I made the cinnamon in my recipe optional, since some people just don’t like it in savory applications, but a pinch adds such a nice warmth and complexity. The final kicker is a tiny splash of vinegar, which really amps up the flavor.
I love this sauce, and I’m confident you will, too, since it’s already gotten rave reviews on the spinach artichoke enchiladas. I’m sorry to make you wait a few days for the enchiladas you’ll see in the last photo, but they are worth it, promise!
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons flour (whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and gluten-free flour blends all work!)
- 1 tablespoon ground chili powder (scale back if you're sensitive to spice or using particularly spicy chili powder)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon salt, to taste
- Pinch of cinnamon (optional but recommended)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- This sauce comes together quickly once you get started, so measure the dry ingredients (the flour, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, oregano, salt and optional cinnamon) into a small bowl and place it near the stove. Place the tomato paste and broth near the stove as well.
- In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, warm the oil until it’s it's hot enough that a light sprinkle of the flour/spice mixture sizzles on contact. This might take a couple of minutes, so be patient and don’t step away from the stove!
- Once it's ready, pour in the flour and spice mixture. While whisking constantly, cook until fragrant and slightly deepened in color, about 1 minute. Whisk the tomato paste into the mixture, then slowly pour in the broth while whisking constantly to remove any lumps.
- Raise heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, whisking often, for about 5 to 7 minutes, until the sauce has thickened a bit and a spoon encounters some resistance as you stir it. (The sauce will thicken some more as it cools.)
- Remove from heat, then whisk in the vinegar and season to taste with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Add more salt, if necessary (I usually add another pinch or two). Go forth and make enchiladas!
Make it gluten free: Just use gluten-free all-purpose flour blend. I tried with Bob's Red Mill brand and it worked great.
Make it tomato free: You can omit the tomato paste. You might want to up the spices a bit. The sauce won't taste quite like the enchilada sauce you might buy at the store, but it will still be good!
Change it up: The chili powder, cumin and garlic powder are essential here, but feel free to change up the other spices to suit your preferences.
If you love this sauce: Check out more of my Mexican recipes here!