Main dish Tex-Mex

Red chile cheese enchiladas

Red chile cheese enchiladas | Homesick Texan

In the spring of 2009, I visited El Paso. While I’d been there before, for this trip my plan was to fly into the city, rent a car, and then continue to Marfa like I’d done in the past. But when I told a friend that I would be in her hometown, she insisted I spend a few meals in the city before hitting the road. “The food is unlike any you’ve ever had,” she said.

She gave me a list of places to try and one of them was Carnitas Queretaro. As the name implies, this is a pork-centric restaurant that specializes in said little meats and my plan was to try the namesake dish. The morning I visited, however, a server walked past me carrying a plate of enchiladas. They were bright red and smothered with white molten cheese, and it was so fragrant that as she passed I turned my head to follow the plate to its destination. A few minutes later, the server approached my table to take my order. I nodded to where she’d dropped off the enchiladas and said I wanted the same.

Red chile cheese enchiladas | Homesick Texan

When my enchiladas arrived, a light steam rose from the hot plate. On it were two soft corn tortillas smothered in that rich, vibrant sauce along with a blanket of melted cheese. I took my first bite, and they were earthy, chewy, and creamy with a touch of heat. The red chile sauce made them distinct from other cheese enchiladas I’d had in Texas, but they were still familiar. They were excellent and I loved them.

Now, typically Tex-Mex cheese enchiladas have a sauce made with ancho chiles, which is a dried poblano pepper that is earthy with bittersweet hints of raisins and chocolate. In El Paso, however, the dried chiles commonly used come from long, green chiles, what people may refer to as Hatch chiles, which are in the same family as Anaheim chiles. These chiles, which can be called New Mexico chiles or chiles colorado, differ from anchos in that they are fruitier, though they too have that earthy essence. While neither is terribly hot, I do find that New Mexican chiles can sometimes be more fiery than anchos.

Red chile cheese enchiladas | Homesick Texan

While I’ve returned to El Paso several times since that visit, when I was recently looking at photos from my trip in 2009, it occurred to me I had never attempted to make those red chile cheese enchiladas at home. That needed to change. Fortunately, I happened to have some New Mexican chiles in my pantry, and so I began to craft my sauce, which is the foundation of the dish.

Red chile sauce is ubiquitous in El Paso and while most recipes are similar I discovered that no family makes their sauce the same way. For mine, I decided to go with lots of garlic, onion, cumin, and oregano, along with broth and the dried chiles, which made a flavorful sauce. Some may strain the sauce or add flour to thicken it, but I found if you pureed it long enough in the blender you could eliminate those steps. For the enchiladas, I used Monterey Jack since in El Paso white cheese is preferred over the yellow cheese more popular throughout the rest of the state. To serve, a garnish of thinly sliced onions, pickled jalapeños, and a scoop of guacamole made them complete.

Red chile cheese enchiladas | Homesick Texan

The resulting plate was just as I remembered, and these hearty, cheesy enchiladas were West Texas-style comfort food at its finest. And as I took each bite, I thought about how wonderful it is that Texas with its vast and varied landscape contains such a diverse and delicious cuisine. I’m glad that I followed my friend’s advice to spend time eating in El Paso, and I look forward to visiting again soon.

Red chile cheese enchiladas | Homesick Texan
5 from 2 votes

Red chile cheese enchiladas

Servings 6
Author Lisa Fain


Ingredients for the red chile sauce:

  • 12 dried New Mexican chiles, about 3 ounces, seeded and stemmed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • Salt

Ingredients for the enchiladas:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1 1/2 pounds 3 cups shredded Monterey Jack or Muenster
  • Diced or thinly sliced yellow onion, for serving
  • Pickled jalapeños, for serving
  • Guacamole, for serving


  1. In a dry skillet heated on high, toast the New Mexican chiles on each side for about 10 seconds or just until they start to puff. Fill the skillet with enough water to cover the chiles and add the bay leaf. Leave the heat on until the water begins to boil and then turn off the heat and let the chiles soak until soft, about 30 minutes. Once hydrated, discard the soaking water and the bay leaf then rinse the chiles. Place the chiles in a blender.
  2. Meanwhile, to make the sauce, in a medium saucepan heat the oil on medium-low heat. Add the onion and the garlic and while occasionally stirring, cook until softened and fragrant, about 3-5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the onion and garlic to the blender, along with the cumin, oregano, and broth. Puree for 5 minutes or until smooth.
  3. Pour the sauce into the saucepan and cook on medium-low heat for 10 minutes or until warm and slightly reduced. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt if needed. You should have about 3 cups of sauce, though if you have a bit more or less that’s fine.
  4. For the enchiladas, first preheat the oven to 350°F and pour the oil into a 9×13 baking dish. To quickly warm the tortillas, place them in the baking dish (it’s okay if they overlap) and make sure they get covered in the oil. Place the uncovered in the oven for 3-5 minutes or until the tortillas are soft and warm. Remove the tortillas from the baking pan and keep covered. Pour half the red chile sauce into the baking dish.
  5. To assemble the enchiladas, place a warm tortilla on a clean surface and add 1/4 cup of the cheese and then roll the tortilla. Place rolled tortillas in the baking dish, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Evenly pour over the enchiladas the remaining salsa, then top with the remaining cheese.
  6. Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Top the enchiladas with the onion and jalapeños, and serve warm with guacamole on the side.

Recipe Notes

Dried New Mexican chiles can be found in the spice or international section at many supermarkets or at Mexican grocers. If you can’t find them, guajillo chiles are a good substitution.

  1. Anonymous

    This sounds way yummy! I can't wait to make them …adding them to the menu for Sunday night 😀 Tonight's menu include's Homesick Texan Tex-Mex Sloppy Joe Sandwich's. As you can imagine …the kitchen smells AMAZING!

  2. Lisa Fain

    Anon–Your kitchen must smell wonderful! Enjoy the sloppy Joe's and the enchiladas!

  3. When I lived in NM, the enchiladas we made were not the rolled tortillas. We would fry the tortilla briefly in oil, dip it completely into the pan with the sauce and lay it on a plate flat, sprinkling it with diced onions and grated colby cheese. We would build a stack 4 tortillas high, ladle extra sauce over the top and then put a fried egg (over easy) on top. Nirvana!

    Nowadays, since it can be labor intensive and I want leftovers, I make mine lasagna style (cutting the side tortillas to fit the pan) and while it is being baked/reheated, I fry my egg.

  4. Sandra Hunter

    Can't wait to try these!

  5. Anonymous

    This looks delish! Gotta give it a try this weekend. I use my grandma's recipe, but I love that bold reddish color. I love your recipes! Viva Texas!

  6. Pink Party Girl

    You had me at Enchiladas! I'll be making this dish over the weekend, definitely!! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Lisa Fain

    Jane–I love NM stacked enchiladas topped with a fried egg! You can find them in West Texas, too, though you also see rolled ones.

  8. Lisa Fain


  9. Lisa Fain

    Anon–The color is indeed very stunning!

  10. Lisa Fain

    Pink Party Girl–You're welcome! Have a great weekend!

  11. Anonymous

    I grew up in Marfa and went to El Paso often. I miss this wonderful food!

  12. matthewrmt

    Love the recipe (and the cookbooks!) I have a large amount of dried guajillo chiles instead of NM red Chiles. Slightly different taste profile, but should still result in a delicious red chile sauce, right? I'm thinking that guajillos have a fruitier taste than anchos, right. They may have a slight more heat than NM red, but that's not a bad thing, especially coupled with lots of cheese!

  13. Lisa Fain

    Anon–The food there is indeed wonderful!

  14. Lisa Fain

    matthewrmt–Yes, the sauce will be a brighter red than it would with anchos, and definitely fruitier. But I find NM chiles are also more fruity than anchos, so I definitely recommend substituting guajillos for this.

  15. Matthew

    Ive never been able to make a decent enchilada. This gives me hope. Thanks for interesting recipe. 🙂

  16. Lisa Fain

    Matthew–You can do it!

  17. Matthew

    Thank you for the confidence boost, Ms.Fain. 🙂

  18. Jennifer

    I made these last night, the first time I've ever started with dried chilis, and they were amazing! Lisa, I didn't change a thing – they were perfection. I did end up somehow with less sauce, so next time I'll make 1 1/2 times the amount. This is going to become a staple; thank you so much!

  19. Lisa Fain

    Matthew–You're very welcome!

  20. Lisa Fain

    Jennifer–Wonderful news! I'm so glad you enjoyed them!

  21. Anonymous

    I made this last night. I prefer my onions in with the cheese and pickled red onions on top, but other than that it was the only change I made. Great dinner for a raw, wet night.

  22. Jennifer

    Lisa, I'm now obsessed with this sauce since making these! How well do you think it would freeze (in, say, 2-cup portions) if I made a huge batch? Or is it best made fresh? Thank you!

  23. Oh, this is a great recipe to try! There are many Mexican restaurants around us that serve great enchiladas now I need to try it your way!

  24. Lisa Fain

    Anon–Love the addition of pickled red onions!

  25. Lisa Fain

    Jennifer–While I haven't frozen this one, I have frozen similar sauces and they've reheated fine so this one should work, too.

  26. Lisa Fain

    Pam–You can never have too many enchiladas!

  27. Hey Lisa–we actually made enchiladas last night. We used corn tortillas and they DISINTEGRATED. Any ideas?? thanks!

  28. Lisa Fain

    LMS–No idea, unfortunately! Most likely it's the brand of tortillas and their ingredients, but it could also be how long they cooked before rolling, sauce distribution, etc.

  29. I get so very tired of all of the online "enchilada sauce" recipes that are tomato based. I use ancho chilis for mine, but tried this one yesterday and it was delicious. While my fave enchiladas are chicken and verde sauce, my husband wants red. My DIL, raised in Dallas, only eats these cheese enchiladas with piles of raw diced onion. Love making her happy!

  30. Unknown

    LMS – the corn tortillas will disintegrate unless you fry them first to kind-of toughen them up. Lisa's method of warming them in the oven in oil is basically lightly frying them, but I usually just use a skillet with very hot oil, frying them each for about 20 seconds, until they start really puffing up, but taking them out well before they start to turn crispy.

  31. Unknown

    Is there a way to adjust this for powdered red chile? Thanks in advance.

  32. Lisa Fain

    Janet–Glad y'all liked it!


  33. Lisa Fain

    Unknown–This particular method won't work with powdered red chile as you'd need to make a roux-based sauce. You can try this Tex-Mex cheese enchilada recipe , and substitute red chile powder.

  34. It's true the tortillas will disintegrate unless they are lightly fried in oil. We have also lightly sprayed them with cooking spray, which keeps them from falling apart. We lived in El Paso for over 40 years and we discovered that the most popular cheese for enchiladas is Muenster. It melts so smoothly and the taste is a perfect match for the enchilada sauce–red or green. Even though we live in Fort Worth now, Muenster is still our go-to for nearly all our Mexican food.

  35. Helen in CA

    I heat my corn tortillas on a well-seasoned cast-iron griddle (no extra oil, so I won't say fry), roll them up.

  36. Deborah Silverman

    Here in NM we would never throw away the soaking water. Reduce the amount of broth if you have to, but the soaking water goes back in first. But you are correct in that every family does it differently. In fact, most of the NM chile sauce recipes do not add broth. But El Paso is kind of a blend between the two regional cuisines.

    • Lisa Fain

      Deborah–In my experience, I find the soaking water bitter but that could be a product of getting my chiles far from the source!

  37. I’ll be making these this weekend! Would a food processor work as well as a blender for the sauce?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating