Green Enchilada Sauce

If you like flavor and spice, you came to the right place.  This Green Enchilada Sauce touches every part of your palate. This rich and flavorful sauce uses charred tomatillos, jalapenos and poblano peppers. Make this green enchilada sauce recipe for more than just enchiladas.

Tomatillos in their husks.

This green enchilada sauce recipe starts with mild and spicy peppers and tomatillos with aromatics like garlic, onion, lime, cilantro and cumin. It’s a simple but flavorful green sauce that goes beyond enchiladas.

Why you’ll love this recipe:

  • It has a limited ingredient list and is all-natural.
  • It has a smoky, spicy, tangy flavor that you won’t get from store-bought enchilada sauce.
  • This versatile recipe is great as a dip for tortilla chips or drizzled on grilled meats and seafood.
  • You can make verde enchilada sauce several days ahead of time.
  • It has an authentic Mexican flavor that pairs well with many dishes.
  • In short, it’s the best green enchilada sauce. You’re welcome.

Ingredients

  • Tomatillos – You’ve probably seen tomatillos in the market but may have yet to learn what to do with them…  With their distinctive papery husks and tacky skin, tomatillos are mild in flavor (needed to counteract the jalapeños) and create a perfect saucy consistency for this powerhouse condiment.
  • Jalepeños – Just one is all you need.
  • Poblano Peppers – These are mild green peppers that don’t add much heat. However, they’re flavorful and blend well with the other ingredients.
  • White Onion – Traditionally, Mexican sauces like this green chili enchilada sauce use white onion, but you can use yellow if you don’t have it.
  • Garlic – I use large cloves of garlic, but if you’re sensitive, you can use smaller ones.
  • Ground Cumin – This spice is common in Mexican cooking as it gives a distinct smokiness to many dishes. Used in this green enchilada sauce, it adds a layer of complexity.
  • Kosher Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Lime Juice – A little bit of acid buoys the sauce flavors, and lime juice is my preferred citrus for most of my Mexican recipes.
  • Fresh Cilantro – this herb gives the green enchilada sauce recipe a light, fresh herbaceousness.
  • Water – to thin out the sauce if it’s too thick.

How to char tomatillos and peppers on the stovetop

To char tomatillos and jalapeño, line a heavy-duty skillet with aluminum foil and put it over a medium-high to high flame.  The vegetables will start to soften and take on a sear and crust.  That’s the flavor, friends!

  1. Remove the papery husk from the tomatillos and rinse them under cool water. Cut them in half, crosswise.
  2. Slice the jalapenos and poblanos in half vertically.
  3. Place the vegetables in the pan and cook, turning every few minutes with a pair of tongs.
  4. The vegetables will soften and develop a crust and char.

Variation: How to char poblano peppers on the stovetop:

I like roasting whole poblano peppers over an open flame for extra smoky char. (See photo below) If you have a gas stovetop, place the peppers directly over the fire (no pan needed) or on a charcoal or gas grill.

  1. Lay them over the flame and turn them occasionally with tongs.  They will bubble, hiss and blacken.
  2. Remove the poblanos from the heat when they are blackened and look like the photo below.
  3. Transfer the peppers to a bowl covered with plastic wrap or a paper lunch bag and seal it. Let the pepper steam for 10-15 minutes until it cools enough to handle.
  4. Slough off the charred skin by rubbing it with your fingers.  

Note: if you don’t have a gas stovetop or grill, just cook the poblano peppers in the pan with the other veggies.

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How do you make green chile enchilada sauce?

  1. Char the tomatillos, poblanos and jalapeno peppers as described above.
  2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened.
  3. Stir in the cumin, salt and pepper and cook for another minute, occasionally stirring until fragrant.
  4. Transfer the tomatillos, poblanos, jalapenos, onion mixture, lime juice, and cilantro to the blender and puree until smooth.
  5. Thin out the verde enchilada sauce with water if needed.

The cilantro and lime juice keep this sauce fresh and vibrant, and the jalapeños smack your tastebuds!  I use the seeds and membrane of the jalapeños, where most of the heat is.  If you want a tamer version, remove the seeds and pith before charring.

Pro-Tips:

This sauce is so good you may want to make large batches. To do that more efficiently, I advise using an outdoor charcoal or gas grill to char the tomatillos, poblanos and jalapenos. You can use a grill mat to prevent smaller items from slipping through the grates.

blending the enchilada sauce until smooth and creamy.

Variations and Swaps

  • Add chicken or homemade vegetable broth in place of water to thin out the sauce if needed.
  • Swap poblano peppers for milder anaheim peppers if you want less spicy sauce.
  • Add ½ to 1 teaspoon of dried oregano for deeper, smokier flavors.
  • Use charred Hatch New Mexico green chiles in place of poblanos (note: they can have a mild to hot spice level, so know what type you have before starting).

FAQ’s

What’s the difference between green and red enchilada sauce?

Green enchilada sauce uses green tomatillos, peppers and cilantro to give it a tangy, vibrant green color and verdant flavor.
Red enchilada sauce can be made with red chiles or chili powder, chipotle powder or chipotle in adobo, tomato sauce or paste and seasonings, all of which give the sauce a red color and smokier flavor.

Can I use green salsa instead of green enchilada sauce?

Green salsa is typically not cooked and is chunkier than enchilada sauce which has been pureed, so it’s creamy. Although they might seem the same, they aren’t. That said, it’s your kitchen.

Is green enchilada sauce gluten free?

Yes, it is! It’s also low-carb, low-calorie, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free and vegan.

Is green enchilada sauce spicy hot?

You can make it as hot or mild as you like. For milder sauces, use milder peppers like Anaheim, reduce the amount of jalapeños and be sure to remove the seeds and white pith.

A two-cup glass measure filled with enchilada sauce.

What differentiates this green enchilada sauce recipe from classic salsa verde, or even this charred one that we love, is the sautéed onions and garlic with smoky cumin.  It creates a more robust flavor – almost like a chermoula– and makes the best homemade green enchilada sauce.

Uses for the sauce:

Try it in these enchilada recipes:

Though this tangy green sauce is perfect for making enchiladas, it also works as an excellent topping for tacos or drizzled over a piece of grilled fish or chicken for a spicy, tangy pop!  

Here’s some other options:

  • As a dressing for taco salads.
  • To dress a platter of nachos.
  • Instead of plain salsa for burritos.
  • Serve over fried or scrambled eggs for breakfast.
  • Drizzle over grilled steaks or porch chops
  • Stir a few tablespoons into steamed rice to flavor it.
  • Swirl a spoonful into chicken tortilla soup to add freshness.
An overhead picture of the green enchilada sauce.
A measuring cup filled with tomatillo enchilada sauce.
Print Pin
4.60 from 15 votes

Tomatillo Enchilada Sauce

Scorched tomatillos, jalapenos and poblano peppers are the basis for this fiery sauce.  Fresh lime juice and cilantro make it bright.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Mexican
Keyword enchilada sauce
Dietary Restrictions Dairy-Free, Egg Free, Gluten-Free, Low-Carb, Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 8

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound tomatillo husked and halved
  • 1 jalapeno pepper halved and seeded
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 large clove garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 2 tablespoons water or more if necessary
  • 1 lime juiced
  • ¼ cup cilantro

DIRECTIONS:

CHARRING TOMATILLOS AND PEPPERS:

  • Line a stainless steel skillet with foil (or use a disposable foil pan).  Heat over high heat.  
  • Add the tomatillos and jalepeno to the pan and cook until charred and slightly softened, about 10 minutes — tomatillos will be softer than jalapeño.  
  • Char the poblano pepper on all sides, either in the same skillet lined with foil — or if you have a gas stove top, rest the chile directly over the flame, until the skin blisters and chars.
  • Turn the pepper occasionally until blackened.  Remove from heat and let cool until you can handle it without burning your fingers. Transfer the peppers to a bowl sealed in plastic wrap or a brown paper lunch bag, sealed. Let the pepper steam and cool for 10 minutes.
  • Slough off the blackened portion of the peppers.  Slice the peppers in half, lengthwise and remove the seeds and stem.  Transfer to the blender with tomatillos and jalapeños.
  • In the skillet, heat one tablespoon of canola oil over medium high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until softened and translucent, 3-4 minutes.  
  • Stir in the cumin, salt and pepper and cook for one minute longer.  Transfer to the blender with the peppers and pulse to combine.

ASSEMBLING THE GREEN ENCHILADA SAUCE:

  •  Add the lime juice and cilantro and process until smooth. If the sauce is too thick, add the water two tablespoons at a time and pulse to blend. Add more water if necessary.
  • Adjust seasonings to your taste.  Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

NOTES:

Store the salsa in a resealable container or jar in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.

NUTRITION:

Calories: 32kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 1g | Sodium: 148mg | Potassium: 231mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 225IU | Vitamin C: 36mg | Calcium: 14mg | Iron: 0.7mg

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17 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I’ve used this as a go to for Mexican food, but decided to swap this sauce for pizza sauce. It was really good. The pizza was mozz, chicken, poblanos and white onion. I made a large batch so I could freeze the rest for future pizzas.

    Thanks for sharing your recipe!
    K

  2. Can you please add a link in recipe to referenced other recipes, I searched for beer braised chili pork that could not be found

  3. I can’t get tomatillos here in Norway so I grow them in my tiny greenhouse last couple of years. I lived in the US for many years and now I can’t live without the green enchiladas. I make a big batch and freeze in jars so I’m good until next crop

    1. That is so SMART! Green Enchiladas are the BEST and kudos to you for your perserverance and innovation!

  4. 5 stars
    You’re making me green with envy (get it.. ha!)! Tomatillos are the ONE food I have never once seen fresh here in Belgium and really, really miss having access to! I will seriously pin this to make in a year when we move back to the US, because it looks well worth waiting for!

  5. 5 stars
    I kid you not, I was JUST talking about making enchiladas! …and now, I have the most delicious sounding sauce to add to them!

  6. 5 stars
    What amazing colour sauce. Enchiladas are my ultimate comfort food, so I am going to have to try this.

  7. 5 stars
    Yum! I love tomatillos and we love making enchiladas as a special treat when we’re indulging in grain. This sauce looks wonderful!

  8. 5 stars
    This is a great recipe and thanks for giving us so many ideas for using this sauce. All your information about charring the ingredients is very helpful too.