Inspired by authentic enchilada sauce, our recipe combines dried chilies, garlic, onion, and spices to make a rich, flavorful sauce that’s perfect for enchiladas. Many dried chilies will work in this sauce. We love the combination of guajillo and ancho chilies. Guajillo chilies have a natural smokiness and are moderately hot, while ancho chilies are mild and have a fruity, chocolate-like aroma. When combined, the enchilada sauce tastes rich and savory with just a hint of spice. For a spicier sauce, add one or two hotter chilies like New Mexico or Cascabel. You can also make the sauce spicier by adding a pinch or more of cayenne pepper.
2 ounces dried guajillo chiles (8 to 10 peppers)
1 1/2 ounces dried ancho chilies (4 to 5 peppers)
Hot water, plus more for sauce
1/2 tablespoon neutral oil like grape seed, safflower or walnut
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 medium white onion, sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/2 to 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
Sugar, optional for balancing sauce
Apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar, optional for balancing sauce
Cut the stems and remove the seeds from peppers. The seeds can be bitter, so get rid of them. Use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut the stem away and then shake or scrape the seeds from the inside of each pepper. (If you have sensitive skin, wear gloves to prevent the oils from getting on your hands. Also, be careful not to touch your eyes during or after working with chili peppers).
Add the cleaned chilies to a dry skillet over medium-low heat. Toast them, stirring occasionally until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Be careful not to scorch the chilies as this can make the sauce taste bitter.
Transfer the toasted chilies to a large pot or large bowl and cover with hot water. Cover with a lid to prevent steam from escaping and set aside for 20 minutes. (When using a bowl, a large plate works well as a lid.)
While the chilies soak, place the skillet used to toast the peppers back over medium heat. Add the oil, sliced onions and whole garlic cloves. Cook, stirring often, until the onions have softened and have a few brown spots all over, about 5 minutes.
Place the onions and garlic into a blender. Add the cumin, coriander, Mexican oregano, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and unsweetened cocoa powder. Set aside until the peppers are done.
When the chilies are done, use tongs to transfer them to the blender with onions and spices.
Taste the soaking liquid, if it tastes bitter, it’s best to use plain water or stock as the liquid for the sauce. If the soaking liquid tastes good, use it.
Add 1 1/2 cups of the liquid (water, stock or soaking liquid), and then blend. Since the chilies are still hot, remove the center insert of the blender lid and hold a paper towel that’s been folded a few times over the hole while blending — this helps to release some of the steam and prevents the blender lid from popping off (which can be a big, hot mess).
If the mixture is too thick, add more liquid, 1/4 cup at a time until your desired consistency.
Taste the sauce. If it tastes flat, add a bit more salt and a teaspoon of vinegar. If it tastes bitter, add a teaspoon or so of sugar to balance it out.
Store homemade enchilada sauce in the refrigerator up to a week. Freeze it for a month or more.