Cheese Enchilada Recipe with Red Sauce

cheese enchilada video – scroll down for recipe

This was one of my favorite meals growing up. Corn tortillas filled with cheddar cheese and diced white onion, covered in red sauce, and heated just long enough for the cheese to melt, leaving the onions still crisp. My little brother hated onions when he was a kid, but my dad always insisted on putting onions in ALL the enchiladas. I mean, it would have been real easy to leave the onions out of one or two of them. He just didn’t want to. I’m not sure what his reasoning was, but I guess it worked because little brother is cool with onions now.

Of course, back then it was made with a can of enchilada sauce. While I still adore canned enchilada sauce, what with its supernaturally smooth texture and powerful single-note-seasoning of cumin, I also like to make my own. It’s been a several-year-long process, but I’ve got my recipe down now. I use guajillo chilies which are the dried form of mirasol chilies (not that I’ve ever seen fresh mirasol peppers for sale). They are mild and floral, with a very smooth brick-red exterior, around 4-6″ long and narrowly tapered. If you can’t find guajillos, you could use 2 ancho chilies instead for a different-but-still-good enchilada sauce.

cheese enchilada recipe – printable


Cheese Enchiladas with Red Sauce

Classic Tex-Mex Cheese Enchiladas with Red Chile Sauce

  • Yield: 4-6 1x


  • For the red chili sauce:
  • 5 Guajillo chilies
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Roma tomatoes (1/2 pound)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • For the enchiladas:
  • 1 1/2 cups of enchilada sauce (recipe above, or canned if you insist)
  • 12 corn tortillas (better have a couple extras in case of breakage)
  • 8 ounces cheese, grated (Cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Colby- Jack)
  • 1 cup diced onion


  1. Rinse and break the stems off the chilies and shake the seeds out. Tear them up in to strips and boil with the 1/2 cup water until the water is gone — about 10 minutes.
  2. Quarter the tomatoes and toss into a blender with the cooked chilies, onion, garlic, salt , and vinegar. Whizz thoroughly.
  3. Heat the oil in a shallow pan until very warm.
  4. Add the sauce carefully (watch for splattering) and stir with a spoon or whisk to combine the sauce with the oil.
  5. Now the sauce is ready to use!
  6. To make the enchiladas:
  7. If you haven’t done so already, heat the sauce in a skillet until warm. Keep it over a low heat while you roll the tortillas.
  8. Dip a tortilla into the sauce, flipping it to coat both sides, and letting it soak just a few seconds to soften it.
  9. Carefully lift out with tongs and put on a plate.
  10. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of cheese and a few onion bits along the center of the tortilla.
  11. Roll up and place in a 9×13″ baking pan. Don’t worry too much if they crack a little while rolling, just let them get a little softer next time. If they are tearing when you try to pick them up, then you are letting them get too soft. You’ll get the hang of it after the second or third one. We’re going to cover them with more sauce and cheese though, so all mistakes will be hidden.
  12. Roll up all 12 tortillas and place in the pan. You will probably have to line up the first 8 in the long direction of the pan and then squeeze the last 4 in along the side. You’ll work it out.
  13. Spread the remaining sauce and cheese over the top.
  14. Bake at 350 for just about 10 minutes to melt all the cheese (or just stick it in the microwave for a couple minutes)
  15. Top with remaining diced onion.

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  1. Wanda Tate on January 24, 2012 at 10:47 am

    your enchiladas look great your recipe seems simple and tasty. I plan to try this weekend on my family. I will let you know how it goes! I love your website also!! You have a fun personality.

    • Hilah on January 25, 2012 at 10:16 am

      Hi Wanda!
      Thanks so much for writing! I hope your family enjoys this recipe. Let me know how it goes.
      Have a great weekend!

  2. Rachael Macry on January 24, 2012 at 11:47 am

    I love your onion-to-cheese ratio! Cheese and onions go together like… like… well they definitely go together.

    I am going to try your sauce. I usually use canned but this sounds pretty easy.

    I can never do the tongs trick on the tortillas. I have to use my naked fingertips.. I have to ‘feel’ that they are at the right moment of softness to remove. Which is why I laughed, I *do* get the sauce all over my hands!! I have to have extra, to account for that haha.

    THANK you for reminding me to make cheese enchiladas more often!!

    • Hilah on January 25, 2012 at 10:16 am

      Yikes, Rachael! You are tougher than me to dip your fingers in the sauce! Or maybe I have my sauce too hot.
      Hope you try this recipe. Like I said, I also do actually like canned enchilada sauce, but this one is so different and good you can’t even really compare them.

  3. Randy on January 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    El Milagro, here I come! The hell with meat loaf, this is my idea of comfort food. But somehow I’ve never gotten around to making a red enchilada sauce (green, yes) and maybe I don’t make cheese enchiladas very often (almost never) because I’ve never gotten around to trying Old El Paso enchilada sauce. I WAS going to make your Texas chili today, but now this is going to be lunch.

    On second thought, maybe I should go to a gringo grocery store and pick up some not so fresh corn tortillas. They seem to not fall apart as easily as fresh ones.

    BTW, I really appreciate the New Post emails!

    • Hilah on January 25, 2012 at 10:14 am

      Well, first of all, you’ll never hear me knocking on Old El Paso in seriousness. I really do like it. But there is a very stubborn part of me that also insists on making everything from scratch at least once. This recipe is one that it so good and so easy, I can’t really justify buying canned sauce anymore, even if I like it. It’s the same way with salsa now.

      Glad you’re liking the emails!

  4. tscarborough on January 24, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    That is about 10 times easier than my enchilada sauce, so I will give it a try. The oil in the sauce and dipping the tortillas is also a step I have been missing. Thanks!

    • Hilah on January 25, 2012 at 10:10 am

      Great! Yeah, traditionally enchiladas are made by dipping in hot oil first, then in sauce, but I started combining the two steps and it works just as well for me.
      Hope you enjoy!

  5. Mafalda on February 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    I just started watching your show, you are hilarious! One question, is the sauce really spicy cuz I am not a big fan… can I put something else besides chilies?
    Btw I am from Portugal, so at least you have one fan here ahahah

    • Hilah on February 12, 2012 at 6:12 pm

      Hola! (I guess that’s Spanish, not Portuguese!)
      These particular chilies are not very spicy, they’re more fruity than hot. If you like, you could try it with maybe just one or two guajillo chilies and 3 tomatoes instead. That would make a very mild sauce. Or maybe you’d like the green enchiladas better? They are very mild.
      Thanks for writing! Glad you like the show. 🙂