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Enchilada Sauce - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Hola. I’m JA, and yet the amount of Mexican food cooked in our household when I was a kid was pretty significant. I grew up on it. Granted, it was kinda “fake” Mexican food – the kind that the Better Homes and Gardens included in their cookbooks in the 1950s in order to show how ethnically diverse they were. But still, it was better than Taco Bell. Not that I didn’t eat at Taco Bell frequently too.

To this day, it’s kind of stuck with me. I would say Mexican food is my favorite cuisine. When people learn I don’t eat sushi, sashimi and wasabi, they usually say, what kind of freak Japanese person are you? Yes, I’d rather eat a plate of enchiladas than a plate of sashimi any day. Well, I do eat a lot of rice.

The story is that my step-grandfather, who was born here in the 20s in the OC, learned to really like Mexican food. And that was passed down to my mom, when she came over after the war. I guess I’m continuing the tradition. My dad and brother aren’t as huge fans of it.

The complaint I hear the most from Asian Americans about Mexican food is that they don’t like the cumin flavors. They say it smells like B.O. Yeah. And natto, fish sauce, stinky tofu and durian smell like farking flowers.

(By the way, a post about Natto is coming soon.)

We make quite a few enchiladas and enchilada-type casseroles at home nowadays. For some reason, I’ve never really thought about making my own enchilada sauce. I usually buy the cans, made by Ortega or La Palma or whatever’s on sale.

One thing I always noticed, when you get red sauce enchiladas at a halfway decent Mexican restaurant, the sauce seems a little different than what you get out of a can. I think it’s less tomato-ey and more brown in color. When I made my own, I discovered that sure enough, it’s more like what they have in restaurants.

Actually, the first time I made the sauce was when I was all set to roll up some enchiladas and I discovered we didn’t have any cans left. I was too lazy to drive to the store. I think some people may not like this type of enchilada sauce because it’s not what they’re used to. It has a slightly bitter note to it. I like it a lot better, however, and I think it comes in a little cheaper than buying cans.

Now, as I’ve said before, every time I try to do the old recipe under $3, I get 99 people writing in telling me that I haven’t calculated the price of a pinch of salt correctly. My response has always been that it’s not so much the exact price you should be concerned with. It’s the fact that you’re making this at home, instead of buying it in a can. Five cents misquoted here and there isn’t going to make a lot of difference.

The amount of mail I get about it is tiring, but I’ve decided to do the recipes again. And yes, there are a whole lot of blogs and content sites who’ve jumped on the cheap bandwagon and started doing “recipes under $X amount”. I’m proud to say I was doing it since the beginning, before it was cool. I may have not had the original idea, but this blog was one of the first to do it.

Enchilada Sauce

4 tbsp white flour — $0.05
1/4 cup cooking oil — $0.05
2 tbsp chile powder — $0.05
4 cloves garlic, smashed — $0.10
1 cup tomato sauce – $0.30
1 tsp salt — negligible
Cayenne pepper if desired
2 cups hot water

Total: $0.55

Get a pan. Get a wooden spoon. Well, you don’t need a wooden spoon, but I like it better. Also, it might work better if your pan is not a non-stick variety. But whatever.

Over low to med heat, brown the flour and chile powder. Make sure to stir it pretty frequently, scraping into the corners. I forget how long it takes, probably a few minutes. Just try not to burn it. If it starts to smoke, take it off heat.

Then add the oil and mix it into a paste. You could probably do the oil first and make a roux, but the recipe I took this from said flour first.

Slowly add the water and tomato sauce, stirring frequently until you get the right consistency. You can fix it by adding more liquid, so don’t add too much to start. Throw in the garlic cloves and salt to taste. Add cayenne pepper if you like it spicy. Simmer it on low until thickened slightly. It’ll probably be about 20-30 minutes. Off heat, remove garlic cloves and let it cool a bit. You’re ready to make enchiladas.

This recipe is an adaptation of one I found online somewhere. I can’t remember which one it is. It’s about good enough for a medium pan of enchiladas, depending on how wet you like your enchiladas. You can easily multiply the quantities in the recipe to get more sauce. You may want to mess around with the amount of garlic. Also, this is a “smooth” sauce – I’ve seen many others that include crushed tomatoes or sauteed onions for a chunkier one.

Enchilada Sauce - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I dunno if toasting the flour is really necessary, but it did seem to take the uncooked flour taste away from the sauce. Just be sure you don’t burn the flour.

I omitted cumin in the recipe because I didn’t think it was necessary. You can throw some in, and for that matter, any other spices you want. The cayenne may not be necessary if you’re going to add heat to the enchilada in other ways. I increased the tomato sauce from 2/3 cup to a full cup – I think some people may like even more tomato taste in it. To get the right consistency you may need to add more or less water as well. This sauce will keep pretty well in the fridge for a week or so.

By the way, enchiladas are one of the messiest things I’ve ever cooked. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I always make a huge mess and use up a ton of dishes. I always feel like a four year old after making them. Wait, I always feel like a four year old anyway…

Ga Ga Goo Goo, Coo Coo Ca Choo.

20 Responses to “Homemade Enchilada Sauce”

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  1. B. Keefer Says:

    I’m going to try your recipe. I always buy it in the can too. I have yet to find a canned sauce that tastes like the sauce in our favorite Mexican Restaurant. I never knew it was so easy to make.

    Tip: When making a pan of enchiladas, I always make 2 or 3 and freeze the others before cooking them. It is very messy and this way I only make the mess once.

  2. Cheap Eats Editor Says:

    @bkeefer – you should totally try it, I think you might have to change the recipe to suit what you like. But yes, I was surprised that the basic ingredients are pretty simple. I freeze the enchiladas as well – actually sometimes I freeze the cooked ones as well. They come out pretty decent when revived in the microwave and toaster.

  3. Andrea (Off Her Cork) Says:

    Scott’s mom said the same thing about cumin! She had tried Indian food and didn’t like it because of the cumin BO factor. So weird!

    Great recipe! I’ve never tried making my own sauce before but should totally get on that. :D

  4. Yvo Says:

    Looks & sounds really good!
    BTW, this literally JUST happened – a coworker offered me ginger candy and when I declined politely, citing a dislike of ginger, she said “I thought all Chinese people liked ginger.” Ummm… yeah. (I also don’t care that much for rice, or rather, grew up disliking it and now see its value/purpose in my life.) Crazy Asians we are *laugh*

  5. Matt Says:

    What kind of freak Japanese person are you? Nah, just kidding.

    Ha, I’m Korean and I also happen to enjoy Mexican foods just as much as you. :)
    Of course, it’s all supplemented by several tons of rice.

  6. Cheap Eats Editor Says:

    @andrea – my inlaws can’t eat it at all because of the smell. There’s also a gross interpretation of a burrito that some AsianAms I know have – they say it’s like a “filled diaper”. I love almost all burritos though. I could eat them every day of the week.

    @yvo – LOL. I’ve got so many of those type of comments, it’s became passe. I take a LOT of heat for not liking raw fish or wasabi. But you don’t like rice???! Actually, I’ve gotten accustomed to not having it at a meal. But my dad – he has to have rice, even if we have stuff like lasagna for dinner. Yes, Lasagna and sticky white rice.

    @matt – We like K food a lot! We get Soon dubu jjigae (sorry, I don’t know the correct spelling) at a place nearby. Speaking of Mexican and Korean food, I’m sure you’ve heard of Kogi? We haven’t eaten there yet though.

  7. skibs Says:

    I would consider you the “OG” of cheap eats!
    Good to see a recipe again…now I just need to get my kid to like cheese and I can try it ;)

  8. Th Running Yogini Says:

    OMG! I made Enchiladas with this sauce last night and it was AMAZING!!! Best of all I had all the ingredients at home!! Thank you :-)

  9. Cheap Eats Editor Says:

    @skibs – thanks, I consider you one of the “OG” readers of cheap eats =) Is your kid allergic to cheese, or just doesn’t like it? Have you ever tried using tofu instead of cheese? I was skeptical, but it’s pretty darn good. We make ground turkey tofu enchiladas all the time. You need firm or extra-firm tofu, just crumble it in when cooking the meat, add some of the ench sauce too.

    @yogini – hey I’m glad they came out well! I like the sauce a lot, but I was thinking maybe it’s not what other people are into. It does taste different than the storebought kind.

  10. Matt Says:

    I’ve never heard of Kogi. :P

  11. Cheap Eats Editor Says:

    @matt – I keep forgetting that this is off the radar unless people are in SoCal. They only have the trucks here (as far as I know) and it’s a huge thing – it has hit a cultural and technological nerve. It’s off the charts as far as foodies, celebrities, and those in the know. The truck twitters their next location – but still the line is immensely long.

  12. Matt Says:

    So it’s a moving resturaunt/truck/thing?

  13. FW Says:

    Nice ench sauce recipe – cheaper than mine (my scratch one is more expensive than using cans)

    If you like it, that’ fine, but I’m surprised you don’t use more tomato sauce. I use 3-4 cups, 1 cup onion, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, water if needed.

    Funny thing is, it tastes pretty much exactly like the El Paso can.

    I thought I was the only one who made the sauce from scratch – makes me larf you do too!!

  14. JD Says:

    This recipe looks great! I’ll have to try it soon. My lazy way to make enchilada sauce is to start from a can of tomato paste, thin it out a little (i.e. water it down), dump in some spices and heat it up. For the super lazy way, you can even heat it up in the microwave.

    Also, a way to cut back on dishes is the stacked method. It eliminates a pan. You make the sauce and get everything ready, then just layer the tortillas, sauce, cheese, and whatever else, directly on plates that you can stick in the over, microwave, whatever. Then you just have plates to wash. This is best with a fried egg on top.

  15. Mary Says:

    Hello! I found your website looking for cheap (but healthy) recipes to feed my family. My husband is in the US Navy so I have am use to working on a very small budget for everything. This month however, his ship (after spending almost two years in the shipyards getting maintence down) were finally able to open their cafeterias to their sailors. What does this mean for my family? It means I lost the $150 allotment given to us by the military to use on food (because the service memeber would be able – if desired – to eat all his meals on the ship (and nevermind that he doesn’t do that so I have to feed him at home (and me!)).

    When I saw your posts for $3 meals I was a bit sceptical. But I picked six of your meals to add to my shopping list and I picked six boxed meals. I figured if I went over on your end I’d at least wouldn’t go broke if I had picked 14 meals from your collection instead of 6.

    I must tell you. I saved $100 this shopping trip. I was amazed. Absolutely blown away. $100 to a military familiy is like a dream come true. I am almost speechless at how amazed and how THANKFUL I am for your site. You say in multiple posts how you don’t like how people tell you that you miscalculated a price. I say they’re not worth it because you saved me ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS. And even though I only supplied half my meals from you – they are healthy and they SAVED – ME – ONE – HUNDRED – DOLLARS.

    Thank you! Thank you so much! Please please please!!!! PLEASE!!!! Never stop putting up more meals for $3. I was thinking that all help was lost that I’d be making Hamburger Helper for months at a stretch but you have showed me I don’t need to do that. I CAN AFFORD TO FEED MY FAMILY GOOD FOOD! I can’t even imagine what I would have saved if I picked all my 14 meals from your site. I’d probably faint at the cashiers.

    Thank you so much – thank you, thank you, thank you!

  16. Sithean Says:

    I love your $3 recipes, and could care less if you’re off by however much. Thank you SO MUCH for helping others out like this. You are the greatest! Please, please never stop!

  17. Mama Kalila Says:

    I grew up w/ homemade sauce and this is nothing like it. But since I’m seeing comments about tasting like cans that would explain it… I won’t go near canned sauce lol.

    Ours uses the dried chile’s, water, oil, flour, salt, pepper garlic & (family addition here) chicken bullion. Takes a little longer than yours since you have to boil the chile’s and blend them, but still definately worth it.

    Btw, I second JD’s comment about stacked w/ an egg. Is how we eat them too and is soooo good. My husband tried it for the first time a few months ago, was sceptical & love it too lol.

  18. jim Peterson Says:

    Good morning, Guys…Really a cool website you have; informative, and lotta fun.
    I’m a bail bondsman, and so have lotta time on my hands just waiting for the phone to ring. Also, my hobby is cooking, and the two things tend to go hand-in-hand. My wife is an accountant for a large company, and loves to work, so I do all the cooking, and everyone is happy.
    A few years back, she mentioned how expensive food was getting, and how hard it was for people on a limited budget. She made a comment that we couldn’t eat for less then 100 bucks a week. I told her that we hardly spent 100 bucks a month, and got the credit card statements for the last month to prove my point. We very seldom use cash; every purchase is made by plastic. I showed her that we spent a total of 120 bucks that month. This was just regular spending, and not trying for any record. I used coupons, shopped cheap markets where they sell a lotta food bulk. I make bread in a bread machine, etc.
    I check the flyers for good deals, like chicken on sale. I can usually buy a whole chicken for about $2.20. The first night I would make breasts poached in wine with tarragon, a favorite. The next dinner, or lunch I would use the dark meat, maybe in a casserole I would then throw the carcass in a large pot, fry it in a little oil, then boil it with seasonings and rice or barley & veggies. We would get at least 3 lunches or dinners out of the soup.

  19. L. Marino Says:

    Interesting website! I’ve been making enchilada sauce for years, having worked at a now defunct full service well-known chain that starts with a Ch for many years I stole many recipes not to mention made them millions of times. plus i have one from a mexican friend. anyway, i’ve never seen the use of tomatoes or sauce in enchilada sauce; it’s more like a red chili gravy, if you will. i also use chicken base, and it’s really killer if you use real butter for the roux. also the cumin is important to round out the chili flavor, they are a marriage in flavors. but hey, just a comment, your recipes look great. ench sauce freezes well, too. by the way, for cheese enchs, take your shred cheddar/co-jack and mix in a small amount of the sauce, with finely chopped white onion, to bind it, and roll it in 3/4″ logs within the corn shells which have been briefly dipped in hot oil to become pliable. these freeze well, too, don’t sauce them before freezing. freeze individually on a cookie sheet and then place in a ziploc. you can bake even only 2 at a time on a heavy china plate with the sauce and cheese on top. thanks! i find your word usage very entertaining.

  20. Brandon Says:

    I tried this recipe tonight with shredded beef enchiladas. It was awesome. Thanks for the easy and tasty recipe! I added the cumin and also a little finely diced jalapeno to the sauce for the heck of it. Again, so good!



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