Enchilada Sauce (Mexican Red Sauce)

Easy, Lunch/Dinner, Mexican, Vegan | April 13, 2017 | By

When me and my husband were in college, our dorm rooms didn’t have kitchens. We only had a mini-fridge and microwave that we had to provide for ourselves. There was one kitchen for the entire building but seeing as there were over 200 dorms in the building, it was frequently being used. There was one summer we were both living on campus in the dorms taking summer classes to make the load the next semester easier. The school cafeteria was only open for breakfast and lunch, and what they had available was not so great. As poor college students, that summer, we literally survived on Maggie Noodles (which is like the Indian, vegetarian equivalent of Ramen) which we used to cook in bowls in the microwave with frozen veggies, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Towards the end of the summer, we were getting pretty sick of the same 2 meals, there’s only so many instant noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a person can handle. We were walking through the grocery store one day trying to figure out what else we could make with just a microwave. We settled on enchiladas. We started buying canned refried beans, jarred ready-made enchilada sauce, tortillas and shredded cheese. We (meaning me) used to assemble all the cold ingredients together on individual plates and heat everything up in the microwave. It was sweet relief from the cold sandwiches and sodium filled noodles. 

After my boyfriend turned into my fiancée and moved to Indiana, I went to go visit him from New Jersey. The apartment he was living in was super small, and the kitchen counter was literally like 1 1/2 feet wide. Coming from my parents house where they have a very nice comfortable kitchen, I was definitely stifled. It reminded me so much of the limitations of college except this time I did have a stove and an oven. I decided to try my hand at making similar enchiladas but in casserole form, and with homemade sauce. I read a bunch of recipes online, got some inspiration, and that is how this sauce was born. This sauce is 100x better than any jarred or canned sauce that you can buy at the store. And conveniently, it is INCREDIBLY EASY to make. You can adjust all the spices according to your taste preference. And this sauce is SO versatile. You do not need to only use it for enchiladas or smothered burritos, you can add mores spices, and use it more sparingly on tacos or nachos. Once you try this recipe you will never go back to buying it. Price wise the quantity you get from this is at least 3x the amount you would get from a jar or can, and probably 1/10 of the price and 100x more flavor. There really is no question here. Stop buying the canned/jarred stuff and just make it yourself. Now you have this recipe to follow as a base. 

Let me walk you through how simple it is =)

First we start out by making a roux. In my Vegan Gravy recipe I know I talked about how I like to make my roux’s on the drier side. In this case you want it to start out a little bit like a thin paste, you will understand in minute why that is. So add the oil and the flour to the pot and heat it on medium heat.

Make sure you stir it around often. Once it gets bubbly like this, and you no longer smell the “raw” flour then it is time for the next step.

Add the Mexican Chili powder. Let me specify here, you cannot just use anything labeled chili powder. Every country has their own chili powder blend. The one you want to use, is a Mexican chili powder blend. It will already include, smoked chipotle pepper powder, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and a variety of other Mexican flavors. You need to make sure you are using Mexican chili powder. This is the brand that I use: Badia Chili Powder 16 oz,  but if you have another brand you like that’s fine too. Just make sure you know that each brand has its own spice levels and proportions. So you may need to readjust to accommodate that. 

Mix the chili powder with the roux and you will see now, that it has created a thick paste. This is why we made the roux thinner for this recipe in anticipation of the chili powder. Mix this around frequently over medium heat for a minute or so to help chili powder toast and release flavor. 

Once the chili powder has toasted a little, add the tomato paste to the pot.

Mix it in thoroughly with the roux/chili powder mixture. The goal here is to cook the tomato paste so it does not taste “raw” in the sauce. Cook it over medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Squish it around the pot with a spoon, making sure that as much as possible comes into contact with the pot. 

Once you feel the tomato paste has cooked sufficiently, add 1/3-1/2 of the water needed for the sauce. Increase the heat to medium/high.

Mix everything around, to help dissolve the paste into the water. This is easier to do when there is less water. At first you will notice there will be huge clumps of the paste mixture, squish them against the wall of the pot to help encourage it to dissolve. 

Soon you will notice that only small little clumps remain, this is good. The sauce will also be visibly thicker in consistency. This is thanks to the roux that we made with the flour/oil and also the tomato paste.

The Last step is to add the remainder of the water, and the bouillon cube, and bring it to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, you can add the additional chipotle powder and smoked paprika powder for more depth of flavor. Let it boil for a couple of minutes and then it will be either ready to use, or store in the fridge for later use. =) This sauce can be enjoyed hot or cold. These are the jars that I use to store my sauces in the fridge: Ball Mason Wide Mouth Quart Jars, Set of 12. See my post about Vegan Gravy for more information about the bouillon cubes that I like to use. If you would like to buy them online here is the link:Edward & Sons Not-Chick’n Bouillon Cubes.  

 I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do! Next I will be sharing the recipe for my Mexican Enchilada/Stuffed Burrito Casserole that I use this sauce for all the time! =) Be sure to subscribe so that you can be notified when I post it! (link in the sidebar). Follow me on Instagram @saltyoversweet and find me on Facebook (the link is in the sidebar).

Enchilada Sauce (Mexican Red Sauce)
The easiest, most versatile, and most flavorful Enchilada/Mexican Red Sauce you could ever make!
Write a review
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
20 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
20 min
  1. 5 Tablespoons - Neutral Oil like cooking Olive Oil or Canola or Vegetable Oil
  2. 3/8 cup - All Purpose Flour (50g)
  3. 1/4 cup - Chili Powder
  4. 3 oz - Tomato Paste (half a small can)
  5. 5 cups - Water
  6. 1 Bouillon Cube - Not Chik'n Bouillon Cube
  7. 1 tsp - Chipotle Powder
  8. 1 tsp - Smoked Paprika
  9. 1/2 tsp - Cayenne Pepper (optional for heat)
  1. Heat up neutral oil in 2 qt or larger pot on medium heat.
  2. Once it gets a little warm, add the AP Flour and mix it into the oil to form a thin paste.
  3. Cook this over medium heat until it starts to get bubbly and the flour no longer smells "raw".
  4. Add the chili powder and mix it into the thin flour paste to form a thick paste.
  5. Cook this over medium heat for 1-2 minutes stirring regularly.
  6. Add the tomato paste and mix thoroughly with flour/chili powder paste. Cook this new paste in the pot for 3-4 minutes on medium heat until tomato paste no longer feels "raw". Make sure to smush the paste against the surface of the pot so that all the paste gets contact with the heat.
  7. Add 2 cups of water. Mix the thick paste into the water. You may have to use your spoon to smush the clumps against the walls of the pot to help it dissolve.
  8. Once all the big clumps have dissolved and the sauce has gotten significantly thicker add 3 more additional cups to the pot and mix. Then add the bouillon cube. Bring to a boil.
  9. Once it has come to a boil, add the chipotle powder, paprika and cayenne pepper (optional for heat).
  10. Boil everything for a couple minutes and then it will be ready to either use right away or store in the fridge.
  1. *This sauce can be used hot or cold.
  2. *This sauce can easily be converted into a Gluten Free recipe by substituting gluten free flour for the AP flour. You may end up with a thicker paste if you do this, so just adjust accordingly.
  3. *If you are cooking Gluten Free, make sure the Chili Powder and other spices you use are also Gluten Free.
  4. *This sauce is inherently dairy-free.
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  1. Gita

    April 13, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    Thanks for this recipe, Anisha! It looks way better than the store brands, which I find a little bitter and end up diluting. I didn’t realize it was that easy to make. I will try this the next time I need enchilada sauce. 🙂

    • Anisha

      April 20, 2017 at 4:27 pm

      Thanks Gita Didi! I hope you all enjoy it! It’s incredibly easy to make, and I am sure once you try it you will never go back! Be sure to report back once you try it! =)


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