Who doesn’t love some good Mexican food? One of the best things about Mexican cuisine is all of the delicious sauces. Spicy, flavorful sauces are very common in Mexican dishes.
One such sauce is green enchilada sauce. Used for enchiladas and so much more, it is a common ingredient or topping called for in Mexican or Tex Mex recipes.
Green enchiladas are a family favorite and perfect for dinner guests. What can you do if you start making enchiladas, only to discover that you don’t have any green enchilada sauce on hand?
No need to put that recipe on hold. You have options. Try one of these great alternatives.
To help you choose the best substitute, let’s first discover what green enchilada sauce is made from and what it can be used for.
What is Green Enchilada Sauce?
Although some people associate green sauces with being mild, green enchilada sauce can actually have a strong spicy flavor.
The main ingredient that gives green enchilada sauce its spice is roasted green chile, and they are often blended with tomatillos, poblano peppers, vinegar, onions, and spices such as cumin, garlic, chili powder, and oregano. Salt, pepper, and olive oil are usually added as well. Some varieties include cilantro, jalapeno peppers, and lime juice.
Tomatillos, also called Mexican husk tomatoes, bring the green color to green enchilada sauce. They are a small green fruit with a tart herbal taste that is slightly dry. They are common in Mexican cuisine.
The green chilies found in green enchilada sauce most often include jalapeno and serrano peppers. The intensity of green enchilada sauce ranges from mild to hot, depending on the type and amount of green chilies used.
Green enchilada sauce is not just for enchiladas. It can be used in burritos, Tex Mex casseroles and chicken-based soups. It also works well on breakfast dishes such as chilaquiles or breakfast burritos.
Best Substitutes for Green Enchilada Sauce
As you can see, green enchilada sauce is a staple in many Mexican dishes. Thankfully, many sauces common to Mexican cooking have some overlapping ingredients and can be used interchangeably in certain recipes.
Read on to find a green enchilada sauce alternative that best suits your recipe of choice.
One of the best substitutes for green enchilada sauce is taco sauce. Both taco sauce and green enchilada sauce are versatile and work well in a wide variety of dishes.
You can find taco sauce at any grocery store, and it comes in varying degrees of spiciness.
The main ingredients in taco sauce are tomato sauce or tomato paste, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Some taco sauces include the addition of onion, oregano, or garlic.
Taco sauce is a tomato-based sauce, unlike green enchilada sauce. The seasonings in taco sauce give it a smoky and spicy flavor that pairs well with Mexican dishes.
While enchilada sauce is usually used for main dishes, taco sauce is more often used as a condiment to top food or side dishes.
Taco sauce can of course be used for tacos. It can also be used as a dipping sauce for nachos and as a topping for burritos and quesadillas.
Since enchiladas need enough liquid for the corn tortillas to absorb, enchilada sauce is more liquidy than most taco sauce. You will need to make the taco sauce more watery if using it as a replacement in enchiladas. One of the best ways to boost the volume of taco sauce is to add some chicken broth.
By adding green salsa or green tomatillos to a red taco sauce, you can create a concoction that will convince most people it is true green enchilada sauce.
This is a green salsa made of tomatillos, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, and garlic. With similar ingredients to green enchilada sauce, it makes an excellent substitute because of its comparable taste.
Salsa verde is often used as a topping for burritos, tacos, and quesadillas. It also makes an excellent dipping sauce.
This type consists of tomatoes, chilies, onion, and other ingredients like garlic, cilantro, salt, and pepper. It can be made and served using fresh or cooked ingredients.
There are a couple differences between green enchilada sauce and red salsa to keep in mind. Like taco sauce, red salsa has a tomato base, giving it a flavor unlike green enchilada sauce.
These sauces also have different consistencies. Red salsa is typically chunkier and not as smooth. If you want to recreate the consistency of green enchilada sauce, you can puree it in a blender or food processor.
Red salsa can be used on tacos, tortillas, chips, salads and soups.
This variety of sauce is a Yucatan salsa made of tomatoes, habanero chili peppers, onion, and coriander. The habaneros, tomatoes, and onions are roasted first to enhance their flavor and then blended with the other ingredients.
A thick, chunky salsa, chiltomate has a spicy, sweet, and smoky flavor.
Chiltomate sauce is served with enchiladas and tacos. It is also used on top of papadzules, which are egg-filled tortillas covered with a pumpkin seed sauce.
Ranchero sauce is a tomato and onion-based sauce. While there are a number of variations of ranchero sauce, it usually consists of tomatoes, onions, chili peppers, garlic, cilantro, and other herbs and spices.
It is most well known for serving as the topping on Huevos Rancheros. This Mexican breakfast dish consists of fried eggs served with fried tortillas, topped with ranchero sauce. Some varieties include sides of black beans, rice, and peppers.
Use ranchero sauce to add flavor to enchiladas, chile rellenos, and tamales. It can also be combined with vegetables or meat to make a filling for burritos, tacos, or enchiladas.
In Spanish, sofrito is a method of cooking that means to boil gradually or sear lightly. When referring to the sauce specifically, sofrito can come in a diverse range of flavors and ingredients.
Yucatan sofrito sauce utilizes habanero chilies. This makes for a fiery substitute for green enchilada sauce.
In the Spanish version of sofrito sauce, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic are cooked in olive oil.
In both of these varieties, other flavors may be added, such as coriander, cilantro, or chili peppers.
Sofrito sauce is commonly used as a filling in empanadas, or to elevate soups, beans, or rice.
Varying in its level of heat, picante sauce combines tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and hot peppers. Similar to salsa, it is usually blended into a smoother consistency.
Picante sauce can be used in a variety of cooking recipes, including enchiladas, burritos, fajitas, and tacos. It is common in Tex-Mex style dishes, as a dip for tortilla chips, and even to top scrambled eggs.
Red Enchilada Sauce vs Green Enchilada Sauce
Despite having different flavors, red and green enchilada sauces are often used interchangeably. When deciding if red enchilada sauce would be appropriate, consider the type of recipe you are making, the ingredients involved, and the desired flavor or level of spice.
The main difference between red and green enchilada sauce is the ingredients used. The level of spiciness can vary as well.
The spiciness of green enchilada sauce comes from green chiles with sometimes a pop of jalapeno pepper. Hatch chiles are the best.
Red enchilada sauce contains similar ingredients but gets its hot flavor from dried red chili peppers. Depending on the type of red chilies used (Guajillo, Chipotle, Cascabel, or Anaheim peppers), the spice level ranges from mild to hot.
While both types of enchilada sauce are spicy, green enchilada sauce is often considered to be spicier. However, this depends on the type of chili peppers used in the red enchilada sauce.
They have slightly different tastes as well: the green sauce has a fresh taste and the red sauce has more of a dark and earthy flavor.
Because of their unique tastes, these sauces pair well with different types of meat. Green enchilada sauce goes best with chicken, and red enchilada sauce works well with ground beef.
Another Option: Make Your Homemade Green Enchilada Sauce
If none of these substitutions sounds right, you can easily make your own green enchilada sauce recipe.
Homemade green chile enchilada sauce will of course top the canned or jarred variety in terms of freshness and flavor. It is also usually less expensive.
To make a stellar homemade enchilada sauce, gather these ingredients: roasted hatch green chiles, onions, garlic, oregano, cumin, tomatoes, and chicken stock. Vegetable broth can be used to make a vegetarian version. You will also need a bit of flour and olive oil, as well as salt and pepper.
This recipe is as simple as sautéing and boiling the ingredients, followed by blending the mixture until smooth.
The next time you have a craving for Mexican food, but realize you are out of green enchilada sauce, you now have several simple enchilada sauce substitutes you can turn to.
The fact that most Mexican sauces are very versatile works in your favor. Use this to your advantage. Everyone has their own preference or tolerance level of spice, so consider that when making your selection.
Whether you look for a replacement for green enchilada sauce at your local grocery store or try your hand at making your own, you are sure to find one that perfectly completes your tray of enchiladas, tops your nachos, or garnishes your tortilla soup.
Do you have any other tried and true substitution recommendations? Please let me know in the comments!