Enchilada Sauce

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My enchilada sauce is a simple red sauce that is enriched with ancho chile paste and Mexican seasonings.

It is a rich and hearty sauce that I make to top black bean enchiladas, or just about any kind of enchiladas or burritos. It’s also good on meat, from chicken to ribs.

There are many authentic Mexican sauces in older cookbooks by Diana Kennedy, the queen of Mexican cuisine, as well as more recent cookbooks by Rick Bayless, who I consider the king of Mexican cuisine.

The problem with following those recipes is that they contain multiple chile peppers and other ingredients that I cannot get my hands on, so it does no good to use the recipes.

Because of this, I fall back on my “default” enchilada sauce, using home-made ancho chile paste. And it will taste different depending on the chile peppers used in the chile paste.

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Enchilada Sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 – 8 cloves garlic, minced
1 26.46 ounce carton Pomi tomato sauce
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
Grindings of black pepper
2-4 tablespoons home-made Ancho chile paste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté for about five minutes. Turn down the heat if they brown too much. Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds or so.

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Add the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Mix in the cumin, oregano, coriander, salt, and pepper.

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Bring the sauce to a boil gently, then lower the heat and simmer the sauce gently, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until isn’t no longer “watery.”

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare your black bean enchiladas by placing refried black beans and Queso blanco, or your choice of cheese on a tortilla. Roll up, place in a greased baking dish, and continue with the remaining tortillas.

Add the desired amount of ancho chile paste to the red sauce and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning.

When you are ready to bake the enchiladas, ladle the enchilada sauce over the enchiladas. Some people like them smothered in sauce, others, like me, like the enchiladas only partially smothered.

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Bake for approximately 30 minutes.

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Let the enchiladas set for about 10 minutes, then serve.

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I love a dollop of sour cream on my enchiladas.

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The sauce goes well with any burritos or enchiladas, with or without meat. And it’s fun to use different kinds of cheese in the tortillas.

The good thing about this enchilada sauce is that you can control the amount of ancho chile paste and other seasonings. If you want it smokier you can always add some ground chipotle pepper and paprika. But always use cumin and oregano if you want a truly Mexican-flavored sauce.

Ancho Chile Paste

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Having ancho chile pepper paste is a staple in my house, with as much Mexican and Southwestern cooking that I do. I might just need a couple of teaspoons, say, to season some sour cream or mayo, or about 1/2 cup of it to add to a soup, chili, meat loaf, or enchilada sauce. I always keep jars of it frozen, to use when needed. It also keeps refrigerated for about six months.

The name of this dark red stuff comes from the fact that ancho chile peppers are used to make the ancho chile paste, which makes sense. Ancho chile peppers are actually dried poblanos. I don’t know why they can’t just call them dried poblanos, but that’s just not how it works in the chile pepper world.

The flavor of ancho chile paste, made only with ancho chiles, is dense and intense. It’s essentially reconstituted chile peppers.

But you can use other dried chile peppers, and even include hot varieties for a little zing. I personally like to use a mixture of chile peppers. Today, I’m using anchos, plus guajillos and chipotles. I’m running low on my precious chile pepper paste, so it’s time to make more. Here’s what I did:

Ancho, Guajillo, and Chipotle Chile Paste

10 ancho chile peppers (large, stubby, dark and wrinkly in the photo)
8 guajillo chile peppers (long, narrow, red and smooth)
Handful of chipotle peppers, depending on your taste (short, dark wrinkly)

Shown below, from left, ancho chile peppers, chipotle chile peppers, and guajillo chile peppers.
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First you must remove the stems from all of the large dried peppers with a sharp knife, and discard. Then slice open the pepper bodies and remove the seeds.


Please be aware that even though these are not fresh chile peppers, they can still burn your skin and eyes.

Place the pepper body parts in the bottom of a large bowl.

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Add boiling water to cover the peppers. Place a smaller, weighted bowl on top to keep the peppers submerged for at least one hour so they can hydrate.

Set up your blender, and have a measuring cup and a rubber spatula on hand. Using tongs, grab all the peppers you can and place them in the jar of the blender. Save the water in the bowl.


Using the measuring cup, remove some of the beautiful pepper-tinged water from the top. Seeds and any kind of debris will be at the bottom of the bowl. Add about 1/3 cup of the liquid to the blender.

Purée the peppers, adding a little more of the pepper water if necessary. The mixture should be smooth, but not too liquid.

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If you have any pepper water leftover, use it in other dishes, like in a soup.

Place a sieve over a bowl. Scrape all of the ancho chile paste into the colander.

Using a spoon’s bottom, force the paste through the sieve. This process removes the chile pepper peels.
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Scrape the paste from the bottom of the sieve as well, and voila! Chile pepper paste.
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Place the paste in clean jars. Freeze, and thaw as needed.
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Note that this recipe can be doubled or tripled, depending on much ancho chile paste you want! It’s the same amount of work!

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Also note that the chile paste will stain everything – your spatula, your sink, your countertop your clothes… You will have many orange spots if you don’t catch the spills immediately!

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