Something is lost in translation when Mexican food travels much further north than Texas, Arizona, Florida, California, and other havens of Central and South American cuisine. Mexican food is innately simple, intended for daily consumption, yet most north-of-the-border recipes tend to get fussy with tomatoes, exotic cheeses, and mountains of cilantro. Nearly every enchilada sauce recipe I found started with tomato puree, tomato sauce, or canned diced tomatoes. I decided to go back to basics and find a sauce that was more authentic and less Tex-Mex, and after over a dozen trials in my own kitchen, I’m ready to share what I’ve learned.

The sauce and meat filling can be prepared in advance and then refrigerated, so that only a few minutes assembly time on the night is required to get these into the oven. With a little planning ahead, this becomes a great Tuesday night dinner.

Serves: 4 (2 enchiladas each)
Prep time is 1 hour, cooking time is 30 minutes, total time is 90 minutes.

Enchilada Sauce

Heat in a large metal skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant (1-2 minutes):

  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp sweet chili powder (New Mexico, NewMex, California, or other non-hot chili)
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika*
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp garlic powder (finely ground, not garlic salt)
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp brown sugar

Whisk in:

  • 2½ cups low sodium chicken broth

Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until thick about 10 minutes. Cover finished sauce with lid to prevent a skin from forming.

*Substitute some or all of the smoked paprika with chipotle powder to increase the heat of this dish. Paprika is a dried sweet mini-bell pepper, while chipotle is a smoked dried jalapeno.

Beef Filling

In a medium saucepan sauté until softened (5 minutes):

  • ½ cup finely diced yellow onion
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil

Add, breaking up with spoon until most of the pink is gone:

  • ½ lb ground beef (chuck or 85%)*

Drain off most of the fat and stir in:

  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano

*Instead of ground beef, boneless skinless chicken thighs could be simmered in chicken stock until fall apart tender and then shredded and used instead.

Warming the Tortillas

Heat in another skillet over medium heat until shimmering:

  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil

Dip 8 corn tortillas one-at-a-time in oil for 5-7 seconds each side until softened and crispy on the edges, and then hold tortilla up to allow oil to drip off. Blot tortillas dry with paper towels and stack on a paper towel-lined plate.

Final Assembly!

You’ve got your tortillas, you’ve got your sauce, and you’ve got your filling. Now it’s time to put it all together and then rewarm in the oven.

Prepare each warmed tortilla by spreading a spoonful of enchilada sauce over one side and then fill with:

  • ¼ cup cheese
  • 2 tbsp beef mixture
  • fresh cilantro (if desired)
  • squeeze of fresh lime juice

Arrange tortillas in 11×7 baking dish, and then top with more sauce and then scatter Mexican cheese blend over the top. Loosely cover with foil. Bake in oven at 325°F for 15-20 minutes on middle rack until cheese is melted and enchiladas are warmed through.

Plate 1-2 enchiladas per person and drizzle with extra sauce. Serve with Goya Mexican Yellow Rice and Refried Beans. To improve flavor of refried beans, fry 2-3 strips of bacon in a skillet, then cook half a yellow onion and one pickled jalapeno in bacon fat. Then fry one can of refried beans until warmed through.