Monday, January 06, 2014

Red Enchilada Sauce from Scratch

I'm a lover of hearty and spicy food and therefore a frequent patron of local Mexican restaurants for casual dining out. I'll usually opt for the red enchilada platter- which arrives as two or three corn enchiladas stuffed with some cheese and smothered in a flavorful red sauce, and with lettuce, beans and rice on the side.

The sauce is fiery red yet it tastes nothing like tomato sauce. It always hits the spot and of course it was only a matter of time before I started looking up a recipe so I could replicate it at home. A bit of research revealed the secret to authentic red enchilada sauce- dried Mexican chili peppers. They give it that wonderful smoky flavor and also the beautiful brick red color. The recipes that I used as starting points are herehere and here. Some recipes include a bit of tomato, most don't. I chose to use a little bit because it adds a bit of tang and sweetness and rounds out the flavor. After several trials, here's my version of red enchilada sauce and it is truly the best thing I made in 2013.

Pictured with a quarter dollar to give
an idea of size
Let's talk about the dried peppers that feature most prominently in this recipe. The first is the guajillo chile (guajillo is approximately pronounced "gwa-hi-yo"). It is a large and flat pepper with a shiny, deep red smooth skin. The flavor is mild and fruity.

The second is the ancho chile. Have you ever seen or used the fresh green poblano peppers from the produce section? The ancho chili is simply the dried version of poblano peppers. They are large and have a deep red-black color and wrinkled skin. The heat level is mild to medium with a sweet-smoky taste.

If you live in the US, your best source for these dried peppers would be the local Hispanic grocery store (or a store that sells international foods). I went in search of one in our little town. Our local Hispanic grocery looked like a forbidding place from the outside, with barred windows. I hesitated at the door a little, but when I stepped inside, I was immediately delighted with aisles and aisles of Hispanic groceries and happily purchased large bags of guajillo and ancho peppers for around $5 each. The quality of the peppers was excellent- dried but still soft; not desiccated. And I also bought large bags of dried pinto and black beans, and fresh tomatillos and cilantro at very reasonable prices.

As an aside- "Ethnic" grocery stores are such wonderful places for the home cook. They are usually worth seeking out even if they tend to be cramped and located in not-so-posh neighborhoods. I'm always urging my non-Indian friends to go to the local Indian store to look for spices (and other ingredients like lentils, rice and flours) that are fresher and cost a fraction of what they do in the gourmet markets. Similarly, I've enjoyed exploring Mid-Eastern, Italian, Asian markets etc. for well-priced and authentic (and often mysterious when I can't read the labels) ingredients from those regions.

Before I get to the recipe, a quick reminder- When working with dried peppers, remember to wash pepper residue off your hands and avoid touching your face or eyes. Wear gloves if you like. Dried peppers can vary in their level of heat, and what's mild to me may be too spicy for you, so make and taste the sauce once and then vary the number of peppers as you wish.

Red Enchilada Sauce
A One Hot Stove creation; inspired by several recipes that I found online
(Makes 2-3 cups; enough for a 9 x 13 tray of enchiladas)



4 dried guajillo peppers
4 dried ancho peppers

2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. oil
1 heaped tbsp. all-purpose flour
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tomato puree or diced fire-roasted tomatoes
Salt to taste
A pinch or two of sugar (optional)

1. Let's start with the dried peppers. Tear off the stem from all the dried peppers and shake out and discard most of the seeds. With a knife (or more easily with a pair of kitchen scissors), cut each pepper into 3 or 4 pieces.
2. In a small pan, heat 1 tsp. oil and toast the pepper pieces for a few seconds to toast them. Set them aside.

3. For the sauce, heat 2 tbsp. oil in a saucepan.
4. Whisk in the flour and saute until toasty.
5. Add the garlic and toasted peppers and saute for a few seconds.
6. Add the tomatoes, salt to taste and 2.5 cups water.
7. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
8. Blend the mixture to a fine sauce using a regular or immersion blender. If the sauce feels too thick, adjust the consistency with water.
9. Taste the sauce and add a pinch of sugar if needed to round out the flavor.

I've bought canned enchilada sauce once or twice before, and this homemade version is thicker and more flavorful than any I've tried. The enchilada sauce can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for up to three days. Other people report success with freezing it but I have not tried that for myself.

Developing this recipe led me to discover some new ingredients and a new store in my town and the enchilada sauce has led to many successful meals. Color me happy! Over the next few days, I'll post the different ways in which I use this sauce.

The only downside to all this is that next time I'm at a Mexican restaurant, I'll probably annoy my dining companions by saying, "Well, I could make a better version of this at home"!

Coming up tomorrow: Let's make enchiladas.

30 comments:

  1. Oh yes, I must try this! I love enchiladas, too.

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    1. If you try it, I'd love to know if the recipe works for you!

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  2. I love mexican food, but I always prefer the green sauce to the red one in restaurants. But since you have such good words for this, maybe I will try your version at home one of these days! :)
    And about enthnic stores..totally with you. Never been to a hispanic one, but I am a frequent visitor at the italian and arabic one and I always get really good stuff (cheese, pastas, tahini, falafel mix, pesto, dates) at reasonable prices.

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    1. I found a good recipe for green sauce years ago so I've been making that at home for a while:
      http://onehotstove.blogspot.com/2007/08/whole-enchilada.html

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  3. Echilladas are hands down my favourite thing to order at Mexican joints, after the margaritas, of course! I've finally created my version of the green tomatillo sauce that I deem the best ever, and now I shld try this red one. From the looks of it, I'm guessing we'll be hosting one too many Mexican themed dinners soon!

    Happy New Year Nupur!!! :)

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  4. This sounds super delicious! Must try!

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    1. Please do, and let me know what you think.

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  5. Yum wanna try this at home... Any suggestion on desi alternative for the peppers here in Mumbai

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    1. I'm not sure what an appropriate alternative would be. If you have relatives or friends in the US, perhaps they'd be kind enough to bring you some of these peppers?

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  6. Wow Nupur, this recipe is so simple. I always use green sauce for enchiladas and wanted to make red sauce but couldn't find a simple recipie with minimal ingredients. will definetly give this one a try.

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    1. Let us know if the recipe works for you!

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  7. I was always apprehensive ordering tjis fish as it just looked too heavy n cheesy...but then which americanized platter isn't???...thanks for the inspiration

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    1. The best part about replicating any dish at home is that you control how much cheese goes into it. I get out off by overly cheesy dishes and always add cheese more for flavor than as a main ingredient.

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  8. I have both these peppers in my pantry, I use them to make chili powder. I love shopping in ethnic stores, I feel like a child in a toy shop. I have never tried making the red enchilada sauce, maybe its time I give it a try. You recipe seems so delicious and doable. Thanks for sharing it.

    - Priti

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    1. I want to try making my own chili powder and taco mix too! I agree with the excitement of shopping in ethnic groceries- like traveling without a passport or ever stepping foot on a plane! I think you will enjoy this sauce.

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  9. Hi Nupur,

    Looks like you've been busy as usual :) I am excited to see this recipe -- G is really fond of Mexican food and I know he'll want to make this. Can't wait to show it to him. You made a *roux* to thicken the sauce -- that's genius!

    Happy New Year to you and your family!

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    1. I hope you enjoy the recipe, Linda! Yes, the roux makes the sauce nice and thick. Happy New Year to you and G and the kitties.

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  10. Can you please give some ideas for substitutes of chilies? or something form super market?

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  11. Oh gosh, I can't sleep today as I know this sauce will be haunting me in my dreams. Love the ruby red color. Yum it looks. :-)

    P.S - Is there a way to smuggle those peppers to India ;-)...

    Hugs,
    Siri

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    1. Maybe a relative or friend from the US will bring them to you as a gift? Worth requesting :)

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  12. I made this last night and it was amazing - I used New Mexico chiles instead of the guajillo because I had them in the pantry. I was a bit skeptical since the ingredient list is so short and it cooks so quickly, but I should have known you'd never steer me wrong :) Definitely on the make-again list!

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    1. YAY - I am so thrilled that the recipe worked for you!!! I've made it so often I used up the whole huge bag of ancho peppers. Yikes.

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  13. I prepared this sauce last week, It became a huge batch because the chilies were quite big. My family has a long way to go before they like enchiladas (it looks like) :(. So yesterday I added a big spoon of sauce to vegetable-bean soup and the soup came out absolutely delicious. It was perfect for a snowy day today. Thanks for the recipe

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    1. Shilpa- Had you guys ever tried eating enchiladas in a restaurant? I am wondering if the recipe did not turn out for you or if your family just does not like the taste of such dishes. Anyway, you're right- you don't have to waste the sauce if they don't like enchiladas. It works as a great seasoning in many dishes, also as a dip for tortilla chips.

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    2. Ohh nothing wrong with recipe Nupur. I love enchiladas, and I loved this one too. V is not a big fan of Mexican food (except for Chipotle restaurant food and some kinds of tacos) so we usually avoid visiting Mexican. For Ishaan, this was the first time and he wasn't very keen on trying :(. Next time I am going to make a very small batch which I can eat all by myself. I love Mexican and this was perfect for me.

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    3. Shilpa -- thank you so much for your suggestion! I made a tomato-vegetable soup tonight that was a bit bland, and a few tablespoons of enchilada sauce perked it right up!

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  14. Can't wait to make it & will update you with the comments.

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  15. Can I make enchiladas sauce using mild chili pods? Appreciate any input. Thank you.

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    1. I'm not sure what mild chili pods are so I'm sorry I can't answer that!

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