How To Make 20-Minute Enchilada Sauce Out of Pantry Staples

published Jul 28, 2020
20-Minute Enchilada Sauce

This 5-ingredient recipe is the fastest, easiest way to make enchilada sauce from scratch.

Makes3 cups

Prep5 minutes

Cook15 minutes to 20 minutes

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a spoonful of enchilada sauce in a mason jar
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

I was raised near San Diego, where you can buy a good can of enchilada sauce at practically any grocery store — something I miss dearly since I moved to the East Coast. Here in Brooklyn, despite the fact that I’ve found several amazing places to eat delicious Mexican food, I have yet to find my favorite go-to Mexican grocery store that sells any can of enchilada rojo sauce, much less a great can.

Recently, I decided to take matters into my own hands. To make enchilada sauce from scratch, there are several routes you can take: Start with dried chiles for robust, earthy flavors, or blend fresh chiles and tomatoes for a lighter, faster option. The seasonings vary greatly too, from cumin and black pepper to brown sugar and cinnamon.

My goal was to create a sauce using ingredients I had on hand, with as little time and effort as possible. The result is the recipe I make for my family when I’ve got 20 minutes to get dinner on the table. It’s not the most authentic enchilada sauce, but for something that comes together with six pantry ingredients, it definitely scratches the itch, yielding a deeply flavorful sauce that my kids can’t get enough of. It makes enough to cover an entire 9×13-inch baking dish of enchiladas, and it also keeps well in the fridge.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

A Fast & Easy Enchilada Sauce That Comes from Your Pantry

Many enchilada sauce recipes call for some combination of paprika, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder. To keep this recipe extra-easy, I simply call for 1/4 cup taco seasoning, which is a blend of all those spices (and more). By all means use a batch of homemade seasoning if you have it, or reach for a packet of store-bought.

Another smart shortcut? Blooming the seasoning in a full 1/2 cup tomato paste. Its concentrated tomato flavor creates a rich umami base, adding an instant depth to the sauce. Cooking the spices directly in the paste amplifies their flavors and distributes them more evenly into the sauce.

The rest of the process couldn’t be easier: add garlic, oregano, and whatever type of broth you’ve got, bring to a boil, then simmer until slightly reduced. Don’t let the sauce thicken too much — if you’re making enchiladas, the sauce will reduce more in the cooking process.

Ready to put your sauce to use? Here are 5 places to start.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell
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Here's how to make a fast and easy enchilada sauce.

20-Minute Enchilada Sauce

This 5-ingredient recipe is the fastest, easiest way to make enchilada sauce from scratch.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes to 20 minutes

Makes 3 cups

Nutritional Info


  • 1

    large or 2 small garlic cloves

  • 2 tablespoons

    vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup

    tomato paste

  • 1/4 cup

    taco seasoning

  • 3 cups

    low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    dried oregano

  • Kosher salt


  • Microplane

  • Medium saucepan

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Rubber spatula or wooden spoon

  • Whisk


  1. Grate the garlic. Finely grate 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves.

  2. Cook the tomato paste and bloom the spices. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add 1/2 cup tomato paste and 1/4 cup taco seasoning. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

  3. Add the broth. Whisk in the garlic, 3 cups broth, and 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano. Bring to a boil.

  4. Simmer 12 to 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer until slightly reduced and thickened, 12 to 15 minutes. Taste and season with kosher salt if needed, being mindful that as enchiladas cook, the sauce will continue to reduce and the flavors and seasoning become more concentrated.

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