The Ultimate Easy Homemade Enchilada Sauce

Easy Homemade Enchilada Sauce on

– Why eat the canned stuff when you can make your own easy homemade enchilada sauce? –

Since I have two separate enchilada recipes on my site (one vegan enchiladas recipe with potatoes, Swiss chard, and toasted pumpkin seeds, and another super hearty enchilada casserole with chicken and brown rice), I suppose it’s about time I came up with an enchilada sauce recipe of my own. I guess that’s what they call putting the cart before the horse. But really, enchiladas are a great option if you find yourself getting really bored with whatever you’re making for dinner every night.

I mentioned a few months ago that I lost my grandmother, and I lamented how sad I was that it didn’t look like I was going to be able to get her recipes from my relatives. Not much progress has been made on that front, but it made me think of something my grandmother was always famous for: her enchiladas.

For year people begged my grandmother for her homemade enchilada recipe, but she refused to give it out. This was strange, because my grandma loved to share recipes. All, but this recipe. My other grandmother, my mom’s mom, bugged her for it, as did my aunts and family friends. For years it remained a mystery, to everyone’s dismay.

Many years later, when I’d grown and she’s gotten much older, I asked her why she never shared the recipe. She paused and glanced down at the ground, then looked up sheepishly. “I don’t want anyone to know that I use canned enchilada sauce.”

Here’s the thing – even though my entire family haled her as THE cook in our lives and we would have gleefully inhaled anything in her cooking repertoire as our last meal, my grandmother never had any confidence in her cooking. She wasn’t just being humble; she truly did not believe that she had any talent in the kitchen.

Grandma wasn’t one of those people who could just throw a bunch of stuff in a pot and call it delicious, and she always had to follow a recipe because she couldn’t remember the steps or ingredient amounts for dishes she’s made a hundred times. According to her, those were the hallmarks of a good cook – and there was no convincing her that she was anything but a housewife with a recipe box. When someone called her a good cook, she said it made her feel like a fraud. On more than one occasion I watched her toss out wonderful dishes because she thought they were crap.

I am definitely my grandmother’s granddaughter. I can wing it in the kitchen, but would you believe that when I want to make a recipe from Melt, I still need to whip out the book because half the time I can’t remember the finer points of a dish that I myself created? Thankfully I’m not nearly so critical of my skills in the kitchen. I understand that for most folks, unless one makes a dish everyday for weeks on end, it’s pretty difficult to commit an entire recipe to memory and hold it there into perpetuity. Please let this be your guide if you are like my grandmother and believe you’re a lousy cook just because you need to refer to a cookbook. It’s no big deal.

So to celebrate my grandma’s enchilada recipe – which I eventually did get ahold of, decades later – I developed my own super easy homemade enchilada sauce recipe. I think she would like it a lot if she were still here.

5.0 from 25 reviews
The Ultimate Easy Homemade Enchilada Sauce
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Homemade enchilada sauce is quick and easy to make, with only a few ingredients and fifteen minutes worth of work. Never eat the canned stuff again! Makes about 3 cups of sauce.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped (about a cup)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped oregano leaves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly chopped rosemary leaves
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Pour onions and garlic into the carafe of a blender and add tomatoes, chili powder, cayenne, cumin, oregano, rosemary, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Puree the sauce until completely smooth.
  2. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel to remove any leftover onions. Pour the sauce into the skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste and pour over enchiladas.


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Comments from other ninjas:

  1. says

    My grandma was my first teacher in the kitchen; I miss her every day; she made it such fun!

    Your topic is interesting; who in the world does remember every ingredient from every recipe they make. Beyond that? Many years ago I worked for a company called Priority Management; their entire premise of showing people how to maintain a system of their schedule and to do list stressed this point. Write it down; get it out of your head and free up your brain space for creative ideas. I’ve always believed that so I don’t worry at all about not recalling recipes from memory; I’m too busy thinking up new stuff!

    This will be made; I’m on a roll lately with homemade Mexican dishes; so thanks!

    • Stephanie Stiavetti says

      Indeed! I totally agree that it’s important to get it out of your head and free up your brain space for creativity.

  2. Terry Markiewicz says

    OMG, was just thinking I’d love to make fresh enchiladas!!!! Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!!

  3. Sarah Olson says

    I have to confess, I never knew what went into enchilada sauce that made it different than any other sauce, so in the handful of times I’ve made enchiladas I bought the sauce. I printed out your recipe, and it’s going in my book for the next time!

    By the way, if I’m making green, then I just swap out the tomatoes for tomatillos, and add them with the onions, right?

    • Eleanor Snyder says

      I like to toast my tomatillos in their skins first, tossing them around in the wok with no oil or very little and leaving just a few of the outside leaves on before swirling them in the food processor.

  4. says

    Thank you so much for posting this, Stephanie! I always assumed I’d never be a “great cook” because I am fairly recipe dependent as well. (That is to say, I often use them as a base to riff off of.) You’ve given me back some of my kitchen confidence. :)

      • Justin Powers says

        Do you think it would be a good idea to liquify the final product in a blender to perfect the texture and really emulsify the flavors?

        • Stephanie Stiavetti says

          You could totally do that, or even cook up everything in the skillet *before* blending. Just be careful if you blend everything after you’ve cooked it – I’ve seen the steam from hot food blow the top off a blender and send scalding napalm all over the kitchen (and its inhabitants)!

  5. Laura says

    Did you ever post an enchilada recipe or did I misread one of your responses? I am looking for an authentic (close enough) chicken recipe if you have the time. By the way I love your tomatoe enchilada sauce recipe and we used it for our tamale casserole. Thanks in advance!

    • Stephanie Stiavetti says

      Sure. I would use half as much since dried herbs are more concentrated, unless your dried herbs are quite old, in which case I’d probably use an equal amount.

  6. says

    Your recipe saved my dinner! I had all the filling prepped, thinking I had a packet of my fave enchilada sauce mix in the pantry. Ready to make sauce and no packet!!! A quick internet search yielded your 5 star recipe and I tried it. I will not ever used sauce mix again. Aloha from Hawaii!!


  7. Organic Girl says

    I found your recipe and it is delicious! I have canned 20 quarts so far. I lived in Albuquerque and although the traditional sauce does not have tomatoes, your recipe is a FIERCE competitor for the best-tasting enchiladas you’ll find anywhere. The recipe will be an heirloom in our family and I’ll be passing it on to others with your website link!

  8. Tara Marie says

    This was really good! I thought I had a can in the cupboard but was mistaken so I looked this up online. Just like the headline says I will never eat the canned again (plus my husband will probably not eat canned again anyway after trying this lol) Thank you honey! Good job!

    • Stephanie Stiavetti says

      Thanks so much! So glad you two liked it. :) And I’m super stoked to bump one can out of your cupboard. Haha!

  9. MT says

    Have you tried the enchilada sauce recipe with fresh tomatoes? I have tons of tomatoes and would like to can some sauce. Have you tried that?

    • Stephanie Stiavetti says

      Yes! It works perfectly. For this recipe I would take 3 pounds of tomatoes, skin them, and then chop them. I might even roast them in the oven before chopped to give them depth. Then use them as I use canned ones, here!

  10. Rosemary Downs says

    I made this sauce and I loved it! It will be my only enchilada sauce recipe from now on. I have never cared for canned sauce and need to watch how much canned food I use anyway because of health concerns. Re having to use written recipes–I cannot remember any of my recipes without getting out the written recipe. And I now have many boxes of files so I can FIND the recipe I need. :-) Thank you for sharing.

  11. Pernille says

    Thanks. I love the internet.
    Where I live, You don’t just buy a can of what-so-ever used in reciepes I find surfing Pinterest. I just doesn’t exist here.
    I will look forward to taste it later this weekend.
    Greetings from Denmark

  12. Mona says

    Yay! I finally found a recipe from a source I trust to make my first homemade enchilada sauce. Very nice! I am no longer intimidated to make my own. The heat in this recipe did surprise me – most of my encounters with ranchera style enchilada sauce have been mild, but since I like spicy food this is quite nice. Thank you!

    • Mona says

      After using this delicious sauce in your casserole, we discovered the spiciness really mellowed out. Boy this is good!

  13. Geli says

    I made this tonight because the enchilada sauce I thought I had turned out to be curry sauce. It was easy and delicious and I will never buy it from the store again! It was maybe a tad spicy for the mother-in-law, but the kids loved it

  14. Spatial-K says

    MMM the enchilada sauce turned out very nice. Next time, I’ll add a little less lemon juice because it was a bit too tangy for my taste. But, it was still NOM. Thanks for posting!

  15. Dorothy says

    Hi! I am making this tomorrow with fresh tomatoes. I was wondering what to do if I want the sauce to only be mildly spicy. My kids don’t like spicy. Thanks!

    • Stephanie Stiavetti says

      Hello Dorothy! I would just leave out the cayenne. At the very end, taste it and add more chili powder to taste. :)


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