Sauces, Vegan, Vegetarian

Enchilada Sauce

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How to make enchilada sauce from scratch is one of the things I wanted to pick up on quickly once I tried an enchilada for the first time. It was a mystery to me but something I set out to master, and as it turns out, something that I was able to do in no time. Fortunately, now you can too. I’ve come up with a quick and easy, low sodium enchilada sauce that you can dial up the heat on if you like. Are you ready?  

I love Mexican food, but at the same time I’m also very picky about it. Spicy is good; hot is not. Even many “mild” items from the grocery store are just a wee too high In Scoville units for me. The solution? Make my own! Later on I’ll share some salsa recipes with you, but for today you are getting my homemade enchilada sauce. I make a large batch and can it in jars, ready to use on one batch of my zucchini enchilada lasagna casserole, or you can use it fresh off the stove. Two cups of this sauce is what you’ll need for one lasagna casserole.

One of the advantages of this recipe is that you can tailor it to your taste and, to a certain extent, to the ingredients you have available. For example, you can modify the seasoning and heat to suit your own taste. My childhood BFF Sara is allergic to cilantro, a staple of nearly every Mexican-flavored dish, so she loves to make this recipe because it’s something she can eat! Cilantro is a fairly divisive herb: some people love it, and others say it tastes like soap including, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, Julia Child. 

There is a scientific reason for this: a small portion of the world population, varying by ethnicity, has a variation in their olfactory receptor genes that enables them to perceive the aldehydes in cilantro leaves, and that’s what creates that soapy taste.

I didn’t think I liked cilantro until I grew it one summer and realized that the “hot” in everything from guacamole to salsa didn’t come from the cilantro, but from the hot peppers. Why, you ask, did I grow it if I didn’t like it? I hadn’t encountered the plant form before and decided it smelled pretty good. As it turned out, I do like cilantro, just as Sam I Am likes his green eggs and ham, though I do tend to temper the amount in most recipes. If you decide to follow in my green footsteps, one plant provides ample cilantro for a year and it dries well in the dehydrator. 

Enchilada Sauce
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The original recipes that inspired this one called for 6 cloves of garlic, chopped. I went for less and used Penzeys roasted garlic, which is pretty powerful as garlic powders go, and I didn’t want it to be overwhelming. One recipe called for only 1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes, but an entire cup of cilantro, 2 jalapenos, and 2 chile peppers! Muy caliente!!! I have provided you with a choice of jalapeno or cilantro. If you want a little more spice or heat, feel free to use both; just don’t invite me for dinner!

Cleaning a jalapeno or chili pepper at home strikes a note of fear in many amateur chef’s hearts. But it’s so hot, they cry. Here’s a few simple tips for you to assuage that fear and set you on the path to DIY Mexican. 

Cleaning a jalapeno or chili pepper at home 

  • First, I use a separate cutting board for the hot stuff so as to not accidentally rub any capsicum in my eyes or on my lips later on. Personally, I wear non-latex “rubber” gloves when cutting the peppers. One box of these from your local pharmacy will last you for years. (I also use them when picking raspberries and blackberries to make hand clean-up at the picky-your-own farms easier. You’ll find lots of uses if you have the gloves available.) 
  • Slice the pepper lengthwise. This makes seed and membrane removal much easier. To remove the seeds or keep them? Contrary to popular belief, the seeds are not what make these pepper hot. However, most chefs remove them to give their dishes a better texture, and because the seeds can be bitter. 
  • So where’s the hot stuff? The membranes, that white flimsy stuff that looks like ribs on the inside of your pepper contains the most capsicum. Leave it in or take it out; that’s your choice based on how hot you want the dish to be. Personally, I take it out. Once you finish dicing the pepper, immediately put the cutting board and knife in the sink, and wash your hands well to avoid contaminating yourself. It will only take one time before you’ll always remember that the main ingredient in Mace is the same as what makes your peppers spicy. 

Color is another variation in this enchilada sauce. The most traditional is red, using red tomatoes. If red peppers are on sale, you can even use those instead of the green. In a pinch, purchase a jar of roasted red peppers and drain them before use. 

I often use this recipe to make use of those green tomatoes left in the garden as the temperatures fall, but the resulting sauce lacks the brilliant color that red tomatoes provide. The green tomato enchilada sauce does have a little more acidic tang because it lacks the sweetness of the red tomatoes. 

It may taste a little odd during the cooking process, but remember that enchilada sauce is not distributed on Mexican food the same way tomato sauce covers a pasta dish. I promise you won’t taste the difference in the end. A combination of tomato colors would also be great if you’re using the remnants of a week’s harvest before it goes back. You could even incorporate tomatillos if you have some at hand. 

As noted at the end of the recipe, I usually can this enchilada sauce for later use. It freezes well if you’re not a canning person; I agree that it is more time consuming and requires more kitchen “stuff” to can it. Use it right away if you’d like. I usually can a jar or two of the one-cup size so I can use it on quesadillas too. A pint jar is ideal for a batch or enchiladas, or my zucchini enchilada lasagna casserole, it has the best of Mexican flavor and style combined with the healthfulness of zucchini and a casserole’s ease of assembly. 

Let me know in the comments how you enjoyed this sauce, and of course what you served it with. Provecho! 

Related Recipes


Enchilada Sauce

Enchilada Sauce
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A Mexican classic, this enchilada sauce recipe provides you with options on heat, spice, and color. You can easily incorporate your tomatoes from the garden into a tasty sauce that will keep for days, can, or freeze for later. One thing is for sure, you’ll be enjoying some enchiladas, Provecho! 

  • Author: Samantha
  • Prep Time: 15
  • Cook Time: 55
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Yield: 20 1x
  • Category: Sauces
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Mexican


  • 2 1/2 pounds red (or yellow or green) tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Penzeys roasted garlic
  • 2 teaspoon Penzeys ground cumin
  • 3 red (or green) peppers, broiled until blacked, then peeled and seeded
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced OR 1/4 cup loose cilantro, chopped finely
  • 3 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Pepper to taste


  1. In a large pot, saute onion in olive oil until soft. 
  2. Add garlic and cumin, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.  
  3. Add tomatoes, peppers, and broth. Add either the jalapeno or cilantro. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes until the ingredients are combined.
  4. Blend the sauce in a blender, food processor, or with an immersion blender until smooth. Return sauce to the pot. (Note: I then ran my sauce through a food mill to remove the seeds and bits of tomato peel, but you can leave yours as is.) Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Simmer on low until sauce reaches desired consistency, it should at least coat the back of a spoon, approximately 20 minutes.

Now, what to do with your sauce:

  • Choice 1: I chose to can mine. To the top of each jar, add 1 tbsp. lime juice per pint. Leave 1/4 inch headspace. Make sure the jar edges are clean, and gently tighten rings. Process in a water bath for 35-40 minutes.
  • Choice 2: this sauce would freeze well if you have the freezer space. Thaw in the refrigerator. 
  • Choice 3: make enchiladas or enchilada lasagna for a party!

Keywords: jalapeno, vegetarian, vegan, easy

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