Beef Enchiladas with Homemade Mexican Red Sauce

Obviously, I make them at home frequently, and I’ll admit, with no shame, that I have always used canned enchilada sauce. I don’t have anything against it, in fact I think it’s pretty darn delicious. But, the other day I started to wonder… How do they make that stuff? The ingredient list on the can has some slightly mysterious items, so I began googling and found tons of “authentic homemade” enchilada sauce recipes. I ruled out one after another, finding lots of tomato-based sauces, thickened with flour. The only thing I really knew was that this sauce was based on dried red chile peppers, so this was the ingredient I looked for. I found three really great, authentic sounding recipes and combined my favorite elements to come up with this sauce. It was so fun and easy! You just need a blender, and other than the dried chile peppers I bet you have everything else you need for the recipe. You can also find my sauce recipe on along with lots of other great recipes and articles!

**Printable recipe at bottom of post**

Mexican Red Sauce


  • 8 dried ancho chiles (also called California chiles, as I discovered while emergency-googling in the international aisle at Wegmans)
  • 3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tbs salt
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbs cumin seeds (or ground cumin)
  • tiny pinch of ground clove (traditional, but optional)
  • 2 tbs white vinegar
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups soaking liquid (from soaking the peppers)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

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To Prepare:
Preheat oven to 400. Set a tea kettle or small pot of water to boil. Prepare chile peppers by tearing or snipping off stems and shaking out as many seeds as you can. It’s fine if they rip, they’re all getting blended later. Place peppers on baking sheet and toast in preheated oven for 5 minutes. Transfer peppers to a large heat proof container and pour over boiling water to cover. Let them steep for 1-2 hours. The water will become a deep red color and the peppers will become very, place peppers, two cups of soaking liquid, garlic and spices in a blender and puree until completely smooth. Heat oil in saucepan and add the pureed mixture, vinegar, and chicken stock. Cook over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes until the sauce reduces and slightly thickens. You should have about 3 1/2 cups. At this point you can cool the sauce, transfer to a container and store in the fridge until you’re ready to make enchiladas.

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Note: For a vegetarian version of this, (If you plan to make cheese or black bean enchiladas) either use vegetable stock, or just use 4 cups total of the soaking liquid and omit the stock all together.

Beef Enchiladas with Red Sauce


  • 20 soft corn tortillas
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 medium onion finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 4 cups shredded cheese; I like a mixture of sharp cheddar and monterey jack
  • 3-4 cups of enchilada sauce

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Using tongs, toast corn tortillas over a gas burner until browned in spots. If you don’t have a gas burner or don’t want to live dangerously, toast in a hot, dry skillet (I recommend non-stick or cast iron). Stack them on a plate, and cover with foil or a clean kitchen towel to allow the tortillas to steam and soften. This step is important for two reasons: It adds flavor to the tortillas and it prevents them from cracking when you roll them up later. Most traditional recipes call for quickly frying each one in oil. This is easier in my opinion, and much less greasy!


While your tortillas steam and cool slightly, prepare the beef mixture. Saute onion, garlic, and beef together until beef is browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce and cook for a few more minutes until slightly thickened. Off the heat, add 1/2 cup of cheese to the beef and stir through. Let cool slightly.

Spray bottom of a large baking dish (mine is 9″x 13″) with nonstick cooking spray, and add a very thin layer of sauce. Reserve a cup of sauce for topping later, and place the rest in a shallow dish. Set up an assembly line with shredded cheese, beef, tortillas, and sauce. Take a tortilla and dip both sides in sauce, top with about 2-3 tablespoons of meat mixture and a pinch of cheese, roll gently and place seam side down in baking dish. Repeat with the rest. I use my hands for this entire process, including scooping the meat. It’s well worth the mess, and your hands will get covered in sauce, so using a spoon is just kind of silly (plus, it’s fun to play with your food!).

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Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas and cover with lots of cheese (whatever you have left, plus a little extra if you want… it can’t hurt, right?). Cover dish with foil, and bake in 375 degree for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly, remove foil and bake until the cheese begins to brown in spots. About 5-10 more 2

I like to serve this with simple white rice, black beans cooked with garlic and cumin, shredded lettuce, sour cream, cilantro, and hot sauce. A few slices of avocado or some guacamole is always nice, too.



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