This authentic red enchilada recipe (enchiladas rojas) is what real Mexican-Americans make at home. (Ask me how I know this.) This is what we call enchiladas callejeras or “street enchiladas.” It’s a recipe I enjoyed as a child, and my own kids leap for joy when I make it now. I hope this simple Mexican dish will become part of your meal rotation too.
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What are red enchiladas?
Red enchiladas typically consist of a savory filling like beef, chicken or cheese, rolled in lightly fried corn tortillas covered in a sauce.
Compared to other red enchiladas, you’ll find this recipe has a more earthy, hearty flavor, since the sauce sticks to the tortilla itself as opposed to flooding the plate.
You’ll cook these enchiladas in a skillet rather than the oven, and the traditional serving suggestion includes diced carrots and potatoes coated in the same red enchilada sauce. Heavenly!
The best cheese for red enchiladas
These enchiladas rojas include the smoky flavor of real ancho chile peppers complemented with the rich and smooth taste of queso fresco.
If you’re not familiar with queso fresco, it has the crumbly consistency of feta or goat cheese, but the flavor is far smoother and brighter. My favorite brand of cheese is La Vaquita, which originated right here in Houston, Texas!
Unlike cheddar cheese or Monterey Jack, queso fresco stands up to the heat and doesn’t melt completely. It resembles the texture of ground beef, so it provides a hearty filling for enchiladas.
No more cheese sauce running into your frijoles, mis amigos!
Choosing the right peppers for enchiladas rojas
You must use dried ancho chiles to get the right flavor for these enchiladas. I have mistakenly bought a different variety in the past (Pasilla peppers), and I had some harsh critics at dinner that night. Whoops!
Your best bet is to find an authentic brand of packaged peppers in the international food aisle. Amazon even sells these dried ancho chile peppers online.
Note: The freshest dried peppers should bend without breaking or crumbling. Always remove the seeds before cooking.
For another recipe using ancho chiles, try my authentic chicken mole recipe.
What to serve with red enchiladas?
Most restaurants will serve enchiladas rojas with some form of rice and beans (refried or charro). I have an excellent Spanish rice recipe (a.k.a. Mexican rice) you should try!
As mentioned, this recipe traditionally comes with diced carrots and potatoes, and you can add a garnish of cilantro, onions, lime wedges, sour cream, green onions, or sliced lettuce and diced tomato. Get fancy with it!
More recipe notes
- For added flavor, some people choose to add diced onion to the cheese filling before rolling the enchiladas. (Not for my kids, though!)
- Feel free to add other alternatives like shredded chicken or ground beef as a filling.
- To keep enchiladas warm, you can pre-heat an oven to 200°F and place rolled enchiladas there in a baking dish before serving. However, I find that throwing them back in the skillet or comal is enough to serve them piping hot.
- While you need no added spices to get great flavor in these enchiladas rojas, you can experiment with roasting your peppers before immersing in water or adding garlic, oregano or other Mexican spices.
- Never boil your peppers, or they will become bitter.
- Some recipes call for using other peppers like guajillo, but there’s really no need since the anchos already provide a sweet, rich taste.
Don’t forget to pin this for later!
Red Enchiladas Recipe (Enchiladas Rojas)
Red enchilada sauce recipe
- 5 dried ancho chile peppers
- 2 cups water
- Salt to taste
Tortillas and filling
- 4 carrots
- 3 red potatoes
- Peel and slice carrots, and dice the peeled potatoes into small cubes. Then boil the vegetables over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until tender but firm. Drain completely.
- Remove seeds and stems from ancho chiles.
- Place 2 cups of water in a small pot and bring to a boil, then immediately remove from heat.
- Add chiles to hot water and steep for 2-3 minutes until softened.
- Remove softened chiles from the pot and blend in a food processor or blender briefly until the mixture becomes like a paste. Add 4-5 tablespoons of water from the pot and season with salt.
- Place the sauce in a pie pan or shallow dish.
- Heat just enough vegetable oil in a skillet or comal to cover the surface of the pan. Leave at medium high heat.
- Place the tortillas into the sauce and smother both sides.
- Fry the tortillas in the skillet or comal for about 10 seconds per side, enough to moisten the tortilla but not break apart.
- Fill the tortilla with queso fresco cheese and onions (optional) or any other savory filling of your choice.
- Return the rolled enchiladas to the skillet for another minute to reheat along with the carrots and potatoes. Add the remaining sauce to the vegetables until coated. Add more oil to the pan if needed to make the enchiladas slightly crispy.
Over the years, I’ve asked my mom many of the below questions in learning how to cook authentic Mexican food. If you have another question, please leave a comment! I typically respond within a few hours.
Can I use other types of peppers?
You can choose to complement your ancho chiles with other members of the “holy trinity” of Mexican peppers, like Pasilla or Guajillo. The anchos are necessary for a subtle sweetness, however. Using only Pasilla peppers will result in a more bitter flavor, for instance.
What kind of cheese do you use for red enchiladas?
You can use cheddar, Monterey Jack, queso blanco, or queso fresco for cheese enchiladas. My favorite is queso fresco since it doesn’t melt completely and provides great texture and substance.
Are enchiladas better with corn or flour tortillas?
Authentic enchiladas always use corn tortillas (tortillas de maiz). Typically you would use flour tortillas in dishes without sauces like tacos al carbon or Tex-Mex dishes like my chicken fajitas recipe.
Can I use uncooked tortillas for enchiladas?
No, do not use uncooked tortillas for enchiladas as these will not absorb the enchilada sauce properly. Always fully cook your tortillas before making enchiladas.
Why are my enchiladas soggy?
Soggy enchiladas happen when the tortilla is fried too long before rolling or sits in the sauce too long before serving.
Why do my tortillas fall apart when I make enchiladas?
Tortillas can break apart for three reasons: 1) the tortillas were previously frozen or soggy before frying, 2) the tortillas were fried for too long before coating in sauce, or 3) the tortillas themselves are of poor quality.
Certain brands of tortillas tend to hold up better when frying, so you might try another brand if you’ve ruled out other possibilities.
How do you make crispy enchiladas?
After rolling enchiladas with filling, you can make them crispy by returning them to a hot skillet or comal lightly coated in vegetable oil. Flip only once to prevent the enchiladas from becoming dry.
Can you freeze cooked enchiladas?
You can freeze cooked enchiladas for up to 3-4 months, and you may find that broiling them or lightly frying them again in a skillet will help them return to a crispy texture. Using a microwave to reheat the dish will likely result in soggy or chewy enchiladas.