Sorta Gringa Enchilada Sauce

This recipe is for Amber Anderson, who loves my enchilada sauce.  I want to start this by saying I didn’t grow up in a household of adventuresome eaters.  My dad had an ulcer and, back then, it was treated by eating bland food.  (Of course, we now know ulcers are caused by bacteria.)  And, growing up in a house full of kids–I have four sisters and a brother–mass production was the required cooking style.  That kept mealtime pretty basic, with meat, potatoes and a canned vegie of some kind.  I don’t recall ever having fresh broccoli or green beans or spinach.  We did have salads but they included iceberg lettuce.

We did, however, have tortillas in the house.  They were not used for bean burritos or soft tacos.  They were used as pseudo-Lefse.  Lefse, for those not of Scandinavian extraction, is a tortilla look alike made from mashed potatoes, milk, butter and enough flour to hold it together while you roll it out, then grill it just like a tortilla.  When you’re done, you fill it with butter, sugar and/or Lingonberry jam, roll it up and enjoy.

Let me say it was shock when I discovered bagels (at 19, when I started at the University of Denver–a lot of Eastcoasters went there so they could spend their weekends skiing).  In the middle of that year I went on an archeological field trip with a group of led by my anthropology professor.  We toured Canyon de Chelley and the pueblos of Northern New Mexico.  It was while I was on that trip that I was introduced to Mexican food.  I had tacos, burritos and, in Sante Fe at a nice restaurant, a sour cream and cheese enchilada.

WOW!  That was it.  I never looked back.  Before long tacos were a once-a-week meal and there were green chilis in my tuna fish salad.  Guacamole is a salad.  I learned to make flour tortillas while living in Holland because we couldn’t survive without Mexican food once a week.  When I hit a new Mexican restaurant I try their chili rellenos and their Mole.

And, of course, there were enchiladas.  Me, being me, had to try making the sauce from scratch.  I discovered that using dried chilis was fussy but using fresh chilis was not only tastier but WAY fussier.  That’s when I decided this was one thing that needed to be made in bulk, once a year, and I could add both vinegar and tomatoes to the recipe to make it eligible for water bath canning.  So, once a year for a whole day I make enchilada sauce.  When I’m done the kitchen looks like a war zone–tomato, chili pulp and finished sauce splashed from one end to the other.

So here you are Amber, the recipe with ALL the instructions included (I assumed she knew you had to roast the chilis first).

Enchilada Sauce

  • up to 24 chilis, your choice of heat, minimum of 8
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 cup of mild oil (like Sunflower)
  • 1/4 cup of regular or gluten-free flour mix
  • 1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • up to 1 tbsp salt to taste
  • up to 2 tsps Mexican oregano (there is a difference) to taste
  • up to 1 tbsp ground Cumin to taste

Choose up to 24 chilis.  The more chilis, the thicker and more chili-tasting the sauce will be.  You can do this with as few chilis as 16.  Anaheims make a mild sauce.  Poblanos are traditional.  Hatch are for people who like a lot of spice in their lives.  Pick chilis that are blemish free and not wrinkled.  (Okay, if you’re getting Hatch, you take what you can get.) Wash them and dry thoroughly.  Roast the chilis on a gas stove or a gas barbeque grill or under the broiler.  You want the skin to blacken over the whole chili, so turn them frequently and watch carefully.

Once they’re blackened, put them into a bag.  Opinions differ on what kind.  I’ve always used a paper sack, not wanting to include plastic molecules in my sauce, but plastic apparently works just fine.  Leave them in the sack for about 15 minutes.  THEN PUT ON YOUR PLASTIC GLOVES BECAUSE ONLY AN IDIOT (that would be me) PEELS CHILIS WITH THEIR BARE HANDS.

If you’re planning to can this for shelf storage (you can always freeze it in the canning jars and avoid the canning process) this is the point you fill your canning pot with water and put it on the stove to boil.  Put six pint jars (it takes about a pint of sauce to make a pan of  enchiladas) in the water to sterilize and have ready when your sauce is done.

Peel the chilis over a colander set on top of a large glass measuring cup.  You want to capture as much of the chili juice as you can.  The blackened skin should strip off easily.  At the same time remove the stems and seeds.  The more seeds you leave in, the hotter the sauce.

Once your chilis are peeled and that collected juice back into them, then puree in your food processor or blender adding 1 cup of water per 8 chilis.  When you’re doing this many chilis you’ll be doing this in batches so have a big bowl ready at the side to take chili goop.  After each batch rinse the food processor into your chili goop bowl with more water.  Your goal is to have 8 cups of chili pulp and water when all is said and done.

Once you’re done pureeing add the tomato puree to the chili pulp.  In a spacious pot saute the crushed garlic cloves in the oil until brown.  If you don’t like garlic chunks in the sauce, remove them at this point.  Whisk the flour into the garlic oil to form a roux.  Cook this pasty stuff for a minute or so, then slowly whisk in the chili-tomato mixture by the cup full to make the sauce.

Add the vinegar, salt and spices.  Bring this to a boil then reduce heat and cook until slightly thickened. Taste, and dance around the kitchen as you realize you might have put TOO many Hatch chilis in this batch.  (Actually it mellows some as it ages.)  Adjust the flavor, which in my case means always adding more Cumin, to your satisfaction.

At this point pull your jars out of the boiling water, putting them upside down on a towel to drain, and add more water to the pan.  Throw the canning jar lids (not the rings) into the water to soften the rubber.  Get your handy-dandy canning funnel out and fill each jar to about 1/2″ below the jar top with enchilada sauce.  Pull those lids out of the boiling water, pop them on top of the jars and screw on the rings.  The easiest way to make sure they’re tightened properly is to over-tighten them then back off a 1/4 turn.

If you’re freezing the sauce, pop them into the freezer.  If you’re canning them, put them into the boiling water, making sure the water level is at least 3 inches above the tallest jar.  Bring the water back to a boil and boil for 40 minutes, keeping the water level at that 3″.  If you have to add water to the pot mid-process, be sure it’s boiling when you add it and add it slowly to maintain the boil.  If the water ceases to boil at any time during that process you’ll need to add the lost time to the process.

I found this very nice web page that describes water bath canning in detail for those unfamiliar with the process.

Oh, and how to make enchiladas?  For flour tortillas, you can fill them with any mixture of cheese, sour cream, cooked beans, cooked meat, cooked or raw onions and cilantro you like.  Put a small amount in the center of a medium tortilla, roll it up and fill a 5 x 10 or 9 x 13 baking dish  with these, then pour in the whole jar of sauce,  top with more cheese if desired and bake for 30 minutes until the cheese is melted.

For the gluten-free crowd you’ll be using the same filling ingredients as above but corn tortillas in place of the flour.  It’s much easier to layer these rather than roll them.  So, pour a little of the sauce into the bottom of your baking pan, add a layer of meat or cheese, another splash of sauce, more tortillas, another layer of filling and a final layer of tortillas.  Again, you should be using up the whole package of 12 corn tortillas.   Pour on the remaining sauce, top with additional grated cheese and bake for 30 minutes.


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