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One of the things I miss most about California is the Mexican food. When I was in college in San Diego, I had authentic Baja-style Mexican food several times a week. And wherever I lived in California after that, I tried to find the best Mexican places (best=most like San Diego). Although I’ve always enjoyed making Mexican food at home, it was just as easy to go grab carne asada street tacos or a big burrito at the five good restaurants or taco stands nearby. The most difficult thing about that was deciding which excellent Mexican place to go to. It’s California comfort food.

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Now that I live 3,700 miles from Baja, this sort of Mexican cuisine is nearly impossible to find (I say nearly because I haven’t given up hope).  Now is the time for me to stand in the gap and make Mexican food in my own cocina before my family dies of deprivation and depression from lack of the exquisite goodness that is a good plate of enchiladas.

The real money in this recipe is the homemade sauce. If you can make this, you can have it on hand for any recipe that calls for red enchilada sauce – soups, huevos rancheros, wet burritos, your favorite enchilada recipe, etc. It’s so delicious and simple, you won’t want to use a canned sauce ever again. And, you can customize it to suit your tastes and your family by adjusting the spice level. Serve with some sour cream, fresh cilantro, and/or avocado slices.

Chicken Enchiladas with Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

  • To make sauce:
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water, plus more as needed for consistency
  • To make chicken enchiladas:
  • 4 chicken breast halves
  • Approx. 14 good corn tortillas
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (jack, pepper jack, or cheddar/jack mix)
  • 1/3 cup green onions, thinly sliced

Heat a pot over medium heat. Swirl canola oil in bottom of pan. Add onions, jalapeños, and garlic. Cook until fragrant and tender.

Add spices, sugar, and salt. Stir and allow spices to toast, 2 minutes.

Pour in tomato sauce and water. Simmer 5 minutes.

[At this point you can cool sauce, blend sauce in blender, and cover and store in refrigerator until ready to use or move on with making enchiladas]

To Make Chicken Enchiladas:

Place 4 chicken breast halves in pot with sauce and simmer, 1 hour, until chicken shreds easily with a fork and has absorbed all the flavor of the sauce.

Preheat oven to 425. Grease a 13x9 pan.

Remove pot from heat and transfer chicken to cutting board. Shred chicken with forks.

Transfer shredded chicken to bowl, season with salt. Mix and set aside.

Transfer cooled enchilada sauce to blender and whirl until smooth. Put 1/4 cup sauce into bowl of shredded chicken. Add 1/2c shredded cheese to bowl with chicken and sauce. Stir to combine.

Steam corn tortillas in a tortilla warmer in the microwave, about 2 minutes, until hot and pliable. *If you do not have a tortilla warmer, a ziploc bag works well.

Spoon shredded chicken mixture (about 1/4 cup) onto center of warm tortilla, roll, and place seam-side down in greased pan. Repeat until all the chicken has been used.

Pour enchilada sauce over the entire pan of enchiladas.

Sprinkle remaining cheese evenly over top. Sprinkle green onions over cheese.

Bake 20 minutes more, or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is gooey and melted.

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