Green Enchilada Sauce

I’m from El Paso, Texas. Enchiladas were a weekly staple, and while I like both red and green, I confess to liking green a whole lot more. I like red enchiladas for breakfast, mostly, with a runny egg on top, but I digress.

Green Enchilada Sauce Up here in NH, getting decent enchilada sauce is damn near impossible. The closest I could get was buying the Old El Paso brand, and that just wasn’t really that good. (Plus, read the label. Who needs all that junk?!) I mean, I could make the meal decent by making really great ingredients in the enchiladas themselves, but it still didn’t really taste like home, so I set out to try to duplicate my favorite comfort food.

We grow a lot of tomatillos. Well, let me restate that. The pigs grow a LOT of tomatillos. We’re not quite sure why there are always so many in the pig paddock, but wherever they were last year is just overrun with tomatillo plants. We must get plenty from the food pantry that we mostly don’t notice and the seeds must pass through the pigs nearly intact, because we end up with bushels of tomatillos, with no effort on our part whatsoever besides harvesting.

Tomatillos Harvesting them is Frank’s job. He routinely walks through the areas with a bucket, collecting squash, tomatoes and tomatillos throughout late summer and through the fall. The tomatillos come in before our chilies are anywhere near ready for me to make my sauce, so he peels the outer papery layer off, washes them, and puts them into ziplock bags and into the freezer to wait until I’m ready for them. Then, when the freezer is overflowing with everything else in there (especially tomatoes), he convinces me it’s time to make my sauce. (He really likes my sauce.)

Here’s what I do:

Into my large crockpot, put:

1/2 pound peeled, roasted hot Hatch chilies
6 leeks, diced, including all the green bits
10 pounds tomatillos
4 medium zucchinis, sliced
1 cup celery
1 cup diced green bell pepper
1 medium head garlic, peeled and diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground white pepper

Cook on high for about four hours, with the lid canted to let steam escape. When everything is soft, hit it with your stick blender, then cook on low until nice and thick, two to three more hours.

Pour into hot 1 pint jars. This batch made 9 pints. Water-bath can for 10 minutes.

Enchilada sauce To use as enchilada sauce, combine with 1/2 pint of stock of your choice and 1/2 cup of sour cream. I like to use the same type of stock as the meat I’m using in the enchiladas. So chicken stock for chicken enchiladas, pork stock, veg stock for cheese enchiladas, etc. This sauce is quite thick and hot, and the addition of stock to thin it out and the sour cream to balance the flavor really works. I’ve added the stock to the sauce before I canned it before, but it separates and looks ugly, so now I just wait to add it when I use it.

Dinner This sauce can also be used for wonderful Mexican-style stews, especially with pork, very authentic. I often put a jar of sauce, a couple of country ribs, some onions and potatoes in the crockpot for a lovely, easy dinner. Or, leave out the potatoes and serve over brown rice. I’ve even served it over left-over noodles of various types. It’s one of my favorite, simple meals, and always reminds me of home.

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  1. Michelle
    Posted September 21, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Lisa, this sounds amazing!! Thanks for sharing!! =)

  2. Posted September 21, 2010 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    This batch of sauce is even better than last years.

    I’ve been paying attention this year. We do consistently get a few tomatillos every run. Nothing comparable to the number of tomatoes though. But in the paddock where the pigs spent the winter of 08-09 we have more tomatillos than tomatoes. They must like it here.

  3. Amy
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    That Enchilada Sauce sounds wonderful. It’s pretty impossible to find good enchilada sauce in Central Vermont too! I don’t have any tomatillos on hand, do you think I can subsitute with my green tomatoes? I’ve never cooked with tomatillos, so don’t know how they compare. Thanks in advance.

  4. Posted September 22, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    A couple of people have asked me about using green tomatoes. Tomatillos have a real tang to them. They are quite tart, and the sauce doesn’t taste anything like tomatoes.

    But, I bet the sauce would be good, if different, if you used green tomatoes. Where are you in Vermont, Amy? Maybe we could meet up somewhere and I’ll trade you some tomatillos for something you have in abundance!

  5. Amy
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 2:24 am | Permalink

    Hi Lisa, There were tomatillos at my farmer’s market today. I ended up with 1 1/2 lbs, so I scaled your recipe down to match. It’s in the final 30 minutes now. You are absolutely right about the tomatillos, very different then the green tomatoes. I’m near Waterbury, VT. Unfortunately, quite a distance from Marlow. Your farm sounds wonderful! Quite envious. Thanks for sharing your recipe and your blog. Enjoying both. Amy

  6. Dulcie.
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    I made it with half green tomatoes and half tomatillos. Pretty tasty!

  7. Christina
    Posted October 2, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    You must have one large mf’n slow-cooker! We’re currently making a half-batch and our not-so-small slow-cooker is completely full.

    • Frank
      Posted September 9, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      We’re making a batch right now. We have the largest slow cooker we could find back in 1999. I’d guess that the ingredients fresh chopped would fill it more than twice. Just keep adding more stuff as the level goes down. Start with the tomatillos as they need the most cooking.

  8. Christina
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    The sauce turned out just wonderfully! P wanted me to thank you specifically. We used half hot and half sweet Hatch chiles, substituted onions for the leeks, and doubled the cumin. We’ve had a couple of meals with it and have got 8 frozen half-pints now. Next year we’ll make more.

  9. Posted October 4, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad you liked it! I made 9 pints myself today, which I think gives us enough for the year. At least I hope so, since that’s all the tomatillos we have and with the last frost, all the plants are now dead.

  10. Heather in SF
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I love green enchiladas, I’ve been using Trader Vic’s recipe since my childhood. This is inspiring me to try canning agin, I bet later on I can find some inexpensive tomatillos in the Mission. I will let you know how it goes!

  11. Dreama
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    You made too much…wanna sell some???

    • Frank
      Posted March 17, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

      Perish forbid. That would be illegal and since the food police don’t bother regulating the big boys, they’re hell on the little guy.

  12. Deb
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t water-bath this recipe as is. There’s basically no preserving agent whatsoever, so I would either freeze 2 cups at a time or I’d pull out the pressure canner. The other alternative would be to add lemon or lime juice to each jar before filling with the sauce, as you would if you were making tomato juice for canning. A tablespoon per pint jar is what Ball calls for adding to pint jars of tomato juice/vegetable juice. I’d can it longer than 10 minutes, too, especially if not using a full Tbl of lemon or lime. One lady on another site used a half tablespoon for each jar and she processed them in the WB for 40 minutes.

    • Posted August 26, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      Tomatillos are as acidic as tomatoes.

    • Frank
      Posted September 9, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink


      Tomatillos are even more acidic than tomatoes. They specifically, and this recipe in total, also contain far more spices and spice-like compounds than tomato juice or sauce.

      I understand that the USDA can only count things that can be ticked off on the official chart, but there is millenia of evidence that such compounds are bacteria unfriendly.

    • Frank
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

      Also, tomato juice is made at room temperature. This stuff has been simmered for hours and is going into the jars sterile and hot enough to sterilize the jars. Like maple syrup, if you get the jars sealed, which 10 minutes will do, it will last 6 months longer than the seal.

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