Red Enchilada Sauce {from Scratch}


What is the number one key to good enchiladas?  The sauce.  The sauce you use on your enchiladas will either make or break the dish.  It is the central ingredient of the enchilada and will really decide whether or not your enchilada is bold and amazing, or flavorless and dull.

I can finally say I have become familiar and comfortable with the spices in my kitchen. I am not afraid to use them.  A good saying I once heard regarding spices and food is, if they smell good together they will probably taste good together.  I think this a helpful piece of advice if you like to experiment in the kitchen, like me.  It’s a tip I used while experimenting to create my own version, this version of red enchilada sauce.
I created this recipe because the canned enchilada sauce has just never done it for me, especially the red (the green canned is a bit better but still not as good as fresh homemade).  It’s just watery and lacks flavor.  It’s what you use when you’re willing to just settle, but when you really want Mexican food I believe you have to make your own sauce.  And why wouldn’t you?  This homemade enchilada sauce is so easy to make!
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do, so you no longer have to settle for the can.  Enjoy!


Red Enchilada Sauce {from Scratch}

Yield: 3 1/2 cups


  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic , finely minced
  • 2 Tbsp finely grated onion
  • 1 Tbsp masa harina or all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional, or decrease/increase for desired heat level)
  • 1 tsp salt , or to taste
  • 3/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon


  1. Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add in garlic and onion and saute for 2 minutes. Whisk in masa harina or flour until well blended. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring mixture just to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes (to see an example of how to prepare the enchiladas you can view my post for Chicken Enchiladas with Green Sauce). Store any remaining enchilada sauce in refrigerator up to 1 week.
  2. Recipe Source: Cooking Classy


  • mekei: i really like your recipes. thanks for sharing. March 8, 2012 at 2:09pm Reply

  • Lisa H.: Great recipe! It sounds very flavorful!

    -Lisa March 8, 2012 at 3:37pm Reply

  • SerenaB: These look like the best enchilada’s! Mmmm..Mmm..Good! March 8, 2012 at 4:39pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: This looks so delicious! March 8, 2012 at 5:22pm Reply

  • beyondkimchee: My oh my! I have been looking for a good enchilada sauce from scratch and I think I am going to try yours. Your enchilada looks really good. I bet my hubby can devour the whole pan all by himself.
    Thanks for sharing. April 3, 2012 at 4:44pm Reply

  • Jaclyn: beyondkimchee – I hope you can make them soon I love them! I just made them again last night for dinner and had enough sauce left to make them again tonight. I love the sauce so much I even add more to my plate to dunk my enchiladas =). I made enchiladas with the pork this time around and it was delish. I hope you enjoy and thanks for your comment! April 3, 2012 at 10:33pm Reply

  • Jayme: This enchilada sauce is awesome! I made it tonight to go in my enchilada casserole (I found the recipe for that here: It was a hit! The flavors, consistency, and taste were perfect. No more canned sauce for me! This will be the only one I make! Thank you so much for sharing! May 17, 2012 at 8:06pm Reply

  • Jaclyn: Jayme – I’m so glad you enjoyed this! I’m going to have to try that enchilada casserole thanks for the link! You’re welcome and thanks so much for your comment! May 17, 2012 at 9:00pm Reply

  • Anonymous: Is the measurement on the chili powder correct…tbl versus teaspoon? Thanks for the recipe! June 11, 2012 at 8:25am Reply

  • Jaclyn: Anonymous – yes it is in Tablespoons, I know that sounds like a lot but its basically the base of flavor in the enchilada sauce. I’ve made this sauce several times since blogging it and everyone who tries it loves it. I hope you enjoy and your welcome =)! June 11, 2012 at 4:38pm Reply

  • Anonymous: Absolutely amazing — whole family loved it. June 25, 2012 at 5:29pm Reply

  • Dianna: I don’t have tomato puree…would substituting tomato sauce be ok? July 4, 2012 at 6:32pm Reply

  • Jaclyn: Dianna – tomato sauce would work fine, I would recommend reducing the amount of salt slightly though because I believe sauce has just a bit more salt than puree, it also has a few seasonings in it so maybe reduce to 2 garlic cloves instead of 3 and 1 1/2 Tbsp onion instead of 2. Hope that helps, enjoy! July 5, 2012 at 10:46am Reply

  • david chapman: This was a huge hit! Can’t wait to try all the great recipes on your bolg :) July 13, 2012 at 10:05am Reply

  • Anonymous: Great, delicious recipe! Small tweaks I made. Replaced water with chicken broth and didn’t add any additional salt. I didn’t have enough Chile powder, so I substituted some dried Ancho chiles I had. Deseeded, tore into strips, and soaked in the chicken stock for twenty minutes. I then added everything as normal and used an immersion blender to smooth out. Turned out superb. Looking forward to trying some of your other recipes. August 20, 2012 at 1:36pm Reply

  • Southern Geologist: Thanks very much for this recipe. I’ve done a lot of searching for recipes using tomato sauce from scratch but they’re invariably Italian-based recipes: Enchiladas aren’t made with marinara sauce! ;) I’ll be making use of this this evening. (Or perhaps a somewhat simplified variant for starting purposes. I’m dealing with some very picky eaters.) August 21, 2012 at 8:24am Reply

  • Julie: Great recipe! I found this on Pinterest. I want to make some homemade enchilada sauce tonight and I think I found a winner. What a lovely blog you have.

    Have a fabulous day!
    Julie August 26, 2012 at 11:33am Reply

  • Laurie: I just came back to find this recipe, having made some a couple of months ago after discovering it. I moved to Uruguay a bit over a year ago and have been missing Mexican food. (No Uruguay’s food is nothing like Central America’s food. Instead it’s very similar to good home cooking from the US) So I’ve been left with the chore of making my own Mexican dishes from scratch.

    I just wanted to let everyone know that this is simply a WONDERFUL enchilada sauce!!! Try it you will not be disappointed! September 4, 2012 at 5:12am Reply

  • Michele: I adore all the spices and cocoa in this sauce. It’s simmering away. September 25, 2012 at 1:30pm Reply

  • Becky: Will this sauce freeze well? I LOVE enchiladas and I agree that the canned sauce is watery…I’d love to make a big batch and freeze it to have on hand! October 3, 2012 at 2:14pm Reply

  • Jaclyn: Becky – I haven’t tried yet although that’s a brilliant idea and I need to do it in the very near future because I love this enchilada sauce. I think it should freeze well (about the same as spaghetti sauce does), just be sure to freeze it in an airtight container that is tightly closed to prevent freezer burn. I would also recommend using the smallest container it will fit in (less space for air) while making sure there is about 1/2″ for it to expand when it freezes. I hope that helps! October 3, 2012 at 3:36pm Reply

  • Sheacat: I am excited to try making this, but I do have a question. Is this spicy? My husband is not a fan of spicy at all, haha, so I need to know before I make this and find he wont eat it. Though, on the other hand it would mean more for me….. :) October 23, 2012 at 7:12am Reply

    • Jaclyn: Sheacat – I would say completely omit the cayenne pepper and then you should be okay. Some people consider chili powder to have a little spice to it, it just depends on the person. To me its totally mild but to others maybe not so, so you may want to use a little bit less and just be sure to use a mild chili powder. Hope you enjoy! October 23, 2012 at 8:18am Reply

    • Sheacat: Made this last night and it was great! Thank you :) October 24, 2012 at 1:00pm Reply

  • Anonymous: I had some tomato puree from tomatoes in my garden that I didn’t know what to do with. I used it to make this sauce and it was just wonderful! The complexity of the flavors is a such a great blend. Thank you so much for posting this recipe. October 24, 2012 at 7:21pm Reply

  • Emily: Made this last night. My husband absolutely loved it. Told me it was in my top 10 dinners that I have ever made. Thank you for the great recipe! November 20, 2012 at 6:38pm Reply

    • Jaclyn: That’s definitely great to hear, thanks so much for the comment! Glad it was enjoyed and your welcome =)! November 21, 2012 at 5:03pm Reply

  • Anonymous: I made turkey enchiladas using this sauce last night and it was absolutely delicious. Thanks for sharing! I made twice the amount and froze half. I can hardly wait for lunch today to eat some leftovers!

    Fawn November 30, 2012 at 8:45am Reply

  • monday recovery and a few new favorite recipes | impressions by Jani: […] a snack of chips and salsa thrown in mid-afternoon, you have got to try this recipe for homemade red enchilada sauce. This blog has gorgeous pictures to go along with her recipes as well. I made a batch of this a few […] March 2, 2013 at 1:37am Reply

  • I_Fortuna: This is more Tex-Mex style. Leave out the cinnamon and tomato products and you have a pretty authentic Mexican enchilada gravy. Tomato products are acidic and ruin the consistency of the gravy and change the flavor drastically. I hope you will try it without those two ingredients. March 25, 2013 at 11:22am Reply

  • Renée: Hi Jaclyn,

    I have some chipolte powder. Do you think that I could use that in place of chili powder, but in a reduced quantity?

    This is a lovely website you have! March 26, 2013 at 10:13am Reply

    • Jaclyn: I personally wouldn’t recommend it because I think the chili powder is one of the key ingredients in this recipe and chipotle powder to me has a much different flavor. I’d say you could definitely add some in to get that smoky heat but I’d recommend that you still use chili powder too. And thank you =)!
      1 March 30, 2013 at 10:48pm Reply

  • fried inverted enchiladas | gluten-free K.F.: […] i have made this closer to their variation but without the chorizo and using my own sauce, namely a variety that comes together easily without fresh produce. chilaquiles are eaten over eggs or chicken as well, and variations will vary by different […] April 6, 2013 at 3:00pm Reply

  • Toddler mama: This is very tasty, but too spicy for me and the kids! My husband will probably love it, but I used 2 T chili powder and no cayenne and it’s still too spicy. Maybe it will calm down once cooked with the tortillas and cheese… July 11, 2013 at 1:48pm Reply

    • Jaclyn: Sorry about that, if you aren’t accustomed to spices like such then it can be a little spicy. Hopefully it did tone down though :). July 11, 2013 at 10:49pm Reply

  • Jenette: Lots of ingredients! But well worth it in the end, I made this last night and it was great. July 24, 2013 at 8:27am Reply

    • Jaclyn: I’m so happy to hear you liked it Jenette :)! Thanks for leaving a comment! July 24, 2013 at 8:34am Reply

  • christina: Can I use something besides apple cider vinegar? I don’t have any also no cocco powder, can I do without these two, or replace them? Thanks August 19, 2013 at 9:51am Reply

    • Jaclyn: You could replace the apple cider vinegar with another vinegar like white or rice vinegar, if you don’t have one of those you could even replace it with lime or lemon juice. The cocoa could be omitted if you don’t have it, but I’d recommend trying it out sometime with it :). August 19, 2013 at 12:00pm Reply

  • Brittney dargusch: If i don’t have ground coriander is it going to make a big difference in the sauce October 9, 2013 at 2:28pm Reply

    • Jaclyn: Not too much it should still be delicious without it. October 9, 2013 at 6:39pm Reply

  • Brittney dargusch: Could i puree a can of whole tomatoes in my food processor and use that as my tomato puree for this recipe :) October 11, 2013 at 3:06pm Reply

    • Jaclyn: Probably but you might want to drain of some of the juice. October 11, 2013 at 3:15pm Reply

  • Zero: I don’t have any chili powder, but I think I have some dried red peppers…would that be too spicy? Or would it taste fine if I omitted the chili powder all together? Thanks! October 22, 2013 at 5:16pm Reply

    • Jaclyn: I wouldn’t recommend leaving out the chili powder, it’s definitely one of main ingredients in this and I wouldn’t recommend the dried red pepper because they may be to spicy. October 25, 2013 at 5:47pm Reply

  • Lisa Arlotti: Best enchilada sauce recipe that I’ve tried. Loved it. Thanks so much April 22, 2014 at 4:50pm Reply

    • Jaclyn: I’m so glad you think so Lisa!! May 6, 2014 at 6:27pm Reply

  • Dianna: To those readers questioning whether it will be too spicy, I would suggest that you buy Gebhardt chili powder which is not spicy at all and then eliminate the cayenne pepper. That way they will not alter the taste of the recipe with the exception of removing the heat. I know folks who have bought chili powder in the little packets only to find that it is a spicy chili powder (my mom is one of them…lol) and it ruined their dishes. Gebhardt is a very good chili powder that I use constantly and have seen recommended in the Tex-Mex chili gravy recipes as well. Hope this helps! December 3, 2014 at 7:43pm Reply

  • kendle: i don’t have any coriander will this have a huge negative effect if I don’t add? February 11, 2015 at 1:01pm Reply

    • Jaclyn: I won’t have a major effect, I’d just say try it with it next time. February 11, 2015 at 5:07pm Reply

  • Diane: Do you know if it would be safe to pressure can this recipe? The recipe looks very good and I’m all about just having it in my pantry :) May 23, 2015 at 6:20am Reply

    • Jaclyn: I wish I knew but I’m so unfamiliar with canning and I don’t know all the rules. June 20, 2015 at 10:28pm Reply

  • Daniel Davenport: STOP all of you, there are no tomato sauce or paste in red enchilada sauce, you use red chile sauce…. made from red chiles. White boy from New Mexico February 1, 2016 at 1:46pm Reply

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