Red Enchilada Sauce
I proudly present: the best Red Enchilada Sauce. Homemade enchilada sauce might sound daunting to make, but this quick recipe is easy, ready in 15 minutes, and uses common ingredients you can find at any grocery store.
If up until this point, you’ve been reaching for the red enchilada sauce can, the next time you are cooking Mexican, give this recipe a try.
Not only does this easy red enchilada sauce beat the pants off of whatever you’ll find on a store shelf, you’ll feel great knowing what’s in it. It’s delightfully smoky, and you can adjust the spice level to your taste.
This recipe is also much lower in sodium than typical canned sauces. In fact, the high sodium level in store bought sauce is what prompted me to try making this homemade version in the first place. I was thrilled to find out how easy (and better tasting!) enchilada sauce is when you DIY.
While it might not be the most authentic enchilada sauce recipe per se, this speedier version still boasts classic, restaurant-style flavor, and it’s completely attainable on a weeknight. WIN!
This red enchilada sauce recipe also yields a good amount (3 1/2 cups, or the equivalent of nearly three 10-ounce cans or two 14-ounce cans). You can use it in recipes that call for a larger amount of sauce or freeze it individual portions, then reach for one whenever a recipe calls for canned sauce.
Once you try this easy homemade recipe, you’ll want to add it to everything you eat!
What Spices Are in Enchilada Sauce?
This can vary based on the recipe. In many classic red enchilada sauce recipes I found, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and even cinnamon were mentioned.
Most sauces also start with a roux, which requires cooking flour on the stove in oil, then slowly splashing in liquid. I managed to avoid this step by blending a chipotle chile pepper in adobo right into the sauce to thicken it instead. (You can find chipotle peppers in a can the Hispanic section of most grocery stores.)
Chipotle peppers have an incredibly rich, smoky flavor, and I love the heat they bring to the sauce. If you are extra sensitive to spice, feel free to leave out the pepper and use the adobo from the can only.
Also, please note that this sauce won’t taste exactly like what comes out of the can. I’d argue it is much, much better, but if you don’t care for the flavor of chipotle, this is probably not the sauce recipe for you.
How Do You Make Red Enchilada Sauce?
What is enchilada sauce made of? Well, unlike the canned version, this sauce is packed with flavor and made with simple, everyday ingredients.
- Tomato Sauce. The base for our easy red enchilada sauce. Tomato sauce already brings a rich, developed flavor that helps make this a quick enchilada sauce.
- Canned Chipotle Peppers. For smoky flavor and spice! For tips on where to find them, see the notes above.
- Adobo Sauce. This is a bonus and comes in the can with the chipotle peppers. It’s spicy, earthy, and gives the sauce a unique flavor.
- Spices. I used a mixture of garlic, salt, and pepper to add depth to the sauce.
- Coconut Sugar. Natural sugar with a subtle sweetness and caramel flavor to complement the heat of the chipotles.
- Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer until thickened.
- Transfer to your blender (or use an immersion blender) and blend until smooth.
- That’s it!
Are Red Chili Sauce and Red Enchilada Sauce the Same Thing?
Yes…and no. Chili sauce is used as a general term for a spicy sauce that can be made of one of a variety of peppers. In the case of red chili sauce, those chilis are (as you have no doubt deduced) red.
- Chili sauce can be found in both Asian and Mexican cuisine, but the flavors of the two are different, because different spices and herbs are added to each. They also have different bases. Asian chili sauce is usually more oil based, while Mexican red chili sauce (like this recipe) is tomato based.
- Red enchilada sauce is a type of Mexican red chili sauce. My hunch is that the name “enchilada” was added after the fact, since enchiladas are one of its most popular uses.
Can You Use Taco Sauce Instead of Enchilada Sauce?
If you prefer to use taco sauce in a recipe, I’d suggest blending it in a food processor or blender with a chipotle pepper in adobo or two to amp up its flavor and add other spices like garlic and oregano to taste.
- Is Enchilada Sauce the Same as Taco Sauce? From what I can tell, the major difference between the two is that taco sauce is thicker (mostly likely because each taco only needs a few tablespoons versus the 2+ cups required for enchiladas).
- The taco sauces I’ve tried are usually more mild than enchilada sauce too.
What Can I Substitute in Place of Enchilada Sauce?
- There isn’t a direct substitute for the deep, smoky flavors found in this sauce.
- I did find this handy hack that could work in a pinch:
- For every cup of enchilada sauce, stir together 1 cup of spaghetti sauce with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and 2 teaspoons of chili powder. I’d also toss in a hit of cayenne for heat. Taste and adjust to your liking.
Ways to Use This Homemade Sauce
- Recipes That Use Enchilada Sauce. Use your sauce in recipes that call for red enchilada sauce like this Crock Pot Mexican Casserole, Vegetarian Enchiladas with Butternut Squash and Black Beans, Chicken Enchilada Sweet Potato Fries, and Vegan Enchiladas.
- With Quesadillas. Add a drizzle of this sauce on top of a Freezer Breakfast Quesadilla, Sweet Potato Black Bean Quesadilla, or any quesadillas you like to make. It would also be tasty over these Breakfast Tacos.
- With Eggs. Drizzle a little of this sauce on top of scrambled eggs for a flavorful breakfast. It would be great on this Whole30 Breakfast Casserole too.
- With Pasta. Stir this sauce in with some cooked pasta and your favorite enchilada ingredients (black beans, ground meat, avocado, and melted cheese would all be tasty!). If this sounds delicious, check out my Taco Pasta for a similar dish.
Recommended Tools for Making This Sauce
- Immersion Blender. Blend your sauce without having to transfer it to a regular blender.
- Mason Jars. Both this smaller size and larger size would be great for storing and freezing leftover sauce. This option is great if you want to stock up on these jars.
- Small Whisk. The perfect size for mixing sauce ingredients without splashing everywhere.
Red Enchilada Sauce
- 2 cans tomato sauce — (15 ounce cans)
- 1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce — use two individual peppers for a spicy sauce or one if you prefer medium heat; if you like mild, try omitting the peppers and adding just a few teaspoons of the adobo sauce to begin; you can always add more sauce later for additional heat
- 1 tablespoon adobo sauce — from the can of chipotle peppers in adobo
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 cup water — or low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon coconut sugar — or brown sugar
- In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together the tomato sauce, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, garlic powder, water or broth, salt, pepper, and coconut sugar. Bring to a steady simmer, then reduce the heat to medium low. Cover the pan and let simmer gently until thickened, about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until very smooth. Tip: Place a thick layer of paper towels over the top of your blender before you turn it on. Hot liquids in blenders love to splatter—don’t ask me how I know. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
- To freeze, portion the sauce into individual containers and freeze for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight or (if you are in a big hurry) reheat gently in the microwave or on the stove.
- Because of the chipotle peppers, the flavor of this sauce is deep and smoky (deliciously so!). If you prefer a more classic, right-from-the-can taste, I'd suggest seeking a different recipe. (I don't have a specific one I recommend, as this is the recipe I always use.)
Nutrition InformationAmount per serving (2 tablespoons) — Calories: 13, Carbohydrates: 3g, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 2g
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