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Dark Days Challenge: Enchilada Sauce Recipe

Several weeks ago, the Unicyclist and I splurged at the Guadalupe Farmer’s Market.  We decided it was time to decorate our place while stockpiling some good food.  That’s how we wound up with a massive jar of mesquite honey and a cheerful ristra of red peppers, one of those beautiful strings of chiles you often see adorning kitchens or doorways in the Southwest.  Both of them are on display in our kitchen, but the honey has definitely been getting more use than the peppers.  You see, I’ve been something of a pepper collector the last couple years.

The Unicyclist and I both like food with bite.  That’s the first problem.  The second problem is that we live in some pretty good chile country.  The third problem is that I have frequented both Native Seed SEARCH and the Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Company in the Tucson area a couple times when entertaining out-of-town guests.  Both places have fantastic assortments of chiles, and it’s nigh to impossible to turn any of them down once you give them a whiff.  As a result, I have nearly a dozen unique kinds of chiles commiserating in my cabinets.  There’s morita negro, chiltepín, chile japonés, pasilla Oaxaca, pasilla negra, guajillo, and Santa Cruz hot.  In addition, we have cayenne, paprika, whole mystery ristra chiles, and fresh serranos.  As you might guess, my cupboards smell amazing.

All of which is great.  However, it also means that I’m not giving said enormous ristra as much attention as I ought.  To compound the problem, we’ve received a hearty helping of dried chiles in our CSA share the last two weeks running.  As the chiles piled up on the counter, it became clear that it was time to take action.  It was time to figure out a chile-intensive dish that could help cull some of my burgeoning chile population; thin the herd, as it were.

It was time to make enchilada sauce.

I should confess that I’ve never made enchilada sauce before.  To be frank, I don’t usually buy it, either.  When the Unicyclist and I make up a batch of enchiladas, we almost always smother them in salsa.  Many enchilada sauces have a certain bitterness from the peppers that I don’t find appealing.  Plus, canned enchilada sauces are somewhat expensive-ish, in my opinion.  However, since my kitchen was in danger of being lost forever to the dried chiles, I figured it may well be now or never.

This recipe, featuring several kinds of chiles and a touch of sweetness from roasted bell pepper, sundried tomatoes, honey, and mesquite meal, was a pleasant surprise.  In short, it is one of the best enchilada sauces I’ve had.  It may not be traditional, but it works for us, and that’s what matters more to me.  The expected bitterness is there in the background, but tempered.  In addition, the variety of peppers used gives it a nice complexity.  If you don’t have access to such a variety of chiles, stick with one main variety and don’t worry about the odds and ends near the end of the ingredient list.  You’ll have a functional enchilada sauce without them.  If you like more heat, choose some accent peppers with serious burn.  If you prefer less, make sure to use milder chiles.  The technique and rough proportions are the value of this recipe.  Your customized enchilada sauce will likely be quite good as well, especially poured over some overstuffed tortillas.  The contents of your enchiladas are up to you, but I filled mine with local black beans, potatoes, onions, garlic, spinach, and cilantro. If you try out the recipe and make your own enchiladas, let me know what combinations you enjoyed!

Spicy and Sassy Enchilada Sauce

Ingredients: (Makes enough for two 13×9 pans of enchiladas; use half the sauce and freeze the rest for another time.)

15 large dried red peppers such as guajillo

5 sundried tomatoes

4 whole roasted tomatoes (I cheated and used Muir Glen organic canned fire-roasted tomatoes)

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1 large roasted sweet red bell pepper

2-3.5 c hot water

1 tsp cumin seeds, bruised in a mortar

1/2 tsp epazote or Mexican oregano

1 whole, dried negro pasilla pepper

1 T guajillo chile powder

1″ section of a dried, smoked chile such as chipotle morito or Oaxaca negro

1 tsp mesquite honey

1 T mesquite meal (optional)

salt to taste (plan on a couple teaspoons)

In a tea kettle or saucepan, boil several cups of water—enough to cover the 15 dried peppers.  When the water boils, pour it over the dried peppers and let them sit for about an hour.

After the chiles have soaked and are cool enough to handle, pull them one by one from the water, pull off any stems, and drop them into a blender.  To the blender, add the sundried tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, garlic, roasted red pepper, and 2 cups of warm water (you can use the soaking water if you like).  Blend on high until smooth.

Add the remaining ingredients and any extra water needed to blend everything smoothly.

When making enchiladas, pour a bit of the sauce in the bottom of 13×9 pan and stuff tortillas to lay in a single row in the pan.  While many traditional enchilada recipes call for briefly frying the tortillas in oil until soft or soaking them in enchilada sauce, it seems like a messy and unnecessary step to me.  The goal is to get the tortillas slightly warm and pliant and keep them so in order to prevent cracking while you work with them.  Warming them very briefly on a skillet and wrapping them in a towel (dry or slightly damp) works just fine for that, as does placing them, wrapped in a towel, in an oven on very low heat (around 200).  After you’ve filled the pan, smother the filled tortillas with more sauce.  Top with cheese if desired.  Bake, covered, in a 375° oven for half an hour or until the enchiladas are hot in the middle.  Brown the dish slightly by cooking an additional 5-10 minutes, uncovered.

Serve with beans, guacamole, salsa, or whatever fixins your heart desires.

Dig in.

Wiggle your toes in ecstacy.

Guten Apetit!

4 comments

4 Comments so far

  1. Mangochild February 9th, 2009 2:33 am

    Dried peppers is one of this things I am going to stock up on this summer. I love spicy hot food, so your sauce is making me excited for the chance to give it a go once I can get the ingredients. With some bean filling, it sounds delightful. I agree, just softening the tortillas works well. Do you do anything to keep them from getting too soggy if the dish is “kept” for a couple days?

  2. Laurel February 9th, 2009 3:34 pm

    This sauce was pretty thick, as enchilada sauces go. However, I guess beyond the recommendation of keeping the sauce a bit thicker…nope, I have absolutely nothing to suggest to keep it from getting soggy. ;) I kind of like the soft, warm, hearty dish that is enchilada goodness, and I’ve never been turned off by the texture, even after keeping it for a couple days.

    However, on a different note, I will say that I like things pretty spicy. This sauce tasted like it had some kick on its own, but when it was incorporated into enchiladas, I decided it really needed some chiltepines in it for extra kick. Just FYI, since you mentioned you like it hot as well. (My particular CSA chiles weren’t especially potent, it seems.)

  3. [...] with more red peppers in her cupboards and kitchens than seemed practical. What else to do but make enchilada sauce? Not only does she now have a stellar recipe, she’s got tips for making the enchiladas to go [...]

  4. girl October 8th, 2011 4:37 pm

    In order to take the bitterness away add a little bit of milk, I promise you that it will go away.

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