Green Enchilada Sauce

CATEGORIES: Condiments, Kate, Latin

So a long time ago in a galaxy not-so-far away, I mentioned that I had a recipe similar to Cafe Rio’s (or Costa Vida’s) green enchilada sauce. If you’re not familiar with Cafe Rio or Costa Vida, they are Mexican restaurants that serve fresh Mexican food heavy on the lime, cilantro, and garlic. Sounds right up our alley, right? Right. Love Sara’s Creamy Lime-Cilantro Dressing? Yeah, it tastes just like the dressing served on their oh-so-delicious salads.

Well, since then, we have been bombarded with emails for requests for this sauce. I love it on a lot of things, and I’m saving those specific recipes for something coming a little later, but you can drizzle it over Taco Chicken, grilled pork tenderloin that you’ve seasoned with Mexican spices and grilled or sauteed, or Lime-Chili Rubbed Steak that’s been folded into our Homemade Tortillas and served with Pico de Gallo and Guacamole. Or you could make Cafe Rio-style burritos by rolling any combination of Quick and Easy Black Beans, Lime-Cilantro Rice, with some of the meats I mentioned earlier. Arrange the rolled tortillas in a baking dish, smother the entire top with this sauce, then sprinkle with Monterrey Jack cheese and bake at 350 for about 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbly.
So this recipe uses tomatillos as its base. No idea what a tomatillo is? No worries! Tomatillos are small, inexpensive little things that look like green tomatoes, except that they’re in husks.

You generally find them near things like jalapeno peppers and cilantro at the grocery store.
If you’ve never cooked with them before, you’ll probably find them a little weird. I did for SURE the first time I ever used them. Although they look like tomatoes, they have a completely unique texture. Also, they can be kind of (or really) sticky once you get the husk off. You’ll probably want to buy a little more than the recipe calls for because a) some of the weight will come off with the husk and b) you might find some nastiness under some of those husks and will have to throw some out. But assuming you’ve got some good ones, all you have to do is remove the husk, rinse them in cool water, and chop them in half (at least for this recipe. And I don’t recommend eating them raw, by the way.)

One other interesting thing about tomatillos is that they have a distinct lime flavor. This recipe has no lime in it, but it definitely tastes lime-y.

This recipe makes a lot. Like…definitely enough to keep some in the freezer for enchilada sauce emergencies in the future. But if that doesn’t interest you, it’s really easy to half the recipe.

It has lots of ingredients, but nothing TOO weird: olive oil, onion, lots of garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, chicken broth, green peppers, jalapenos, cilantro, and tomatillos. Pretty standard Our Best Bites fare, right?

Believe me, this is way better than anything you’re going to get from a jar. I promise you that because I’ve tried them all in various attempts to simplify my way-too-complicated life. Being spoiled with great Mexican food can be a burden, I tell you.

You chop up those onions and garlic. Lots of garlic.

And saute them in some hot olive oil. While they’re cooking, you blend together the tomatillos, cilantro, green peppers, and jalapeno peppers in your blender.

You might need to do it in batches and you might need to add some chicken broth to get things going, depending on your blender and the water content of your tomatillos.

If you’re worried about the heat from the jalapenos, this sauce really isn’t super spicy–probably a good, solid “medium.” That said, I always remove the seeds and membranes from inside the peppers because that’s where the majority of the heat is contained. If you want things on the mild side, only use one or even no jalapenos. For more info on jalapenos, check out this post.

After you’ve blended the tomatillo mixture, add it to the sauteed onions and garlic

and stir in the spices and chicken broth.

How long you simmer this depends on your needs/tastes. If you want a thin sauce that you can dip chips in or if you just prefer it that way, you might only simmer it for 15 minutes or so, whereas if you want a thicker sauce or need it to be thicker for something like tacos, then it might be closer to an hour. I actually just turn the heat to high, leave it uncovered, and simmer it like crazy, stirring it often, and it cuts down on the time considerably. You can also cook it all day in a slow cooker if you want.

After you’ve simmered it long enough to reach the desired consistency, remove from heat and use it however you want!

Like this. Seriously, my mouth is watering just thinking about these tacos…


  1. I can't wait to try this! I'm so sad we don't have a Cafe Rio here. I guess I'll make this sauce, dressing, and rice and pretend like I'm eating there. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I've wanted a recipe like this too! We buy green enchilada sauce fairly often, so it's great to know it can be made from scratch too! Thanks!

  3. I'm a huge fan of homemade enchilada sauce, but I make red so I am excited to bookmark this and try green!!

  4. I loved this- and actually, I added the full amount of sugar and even a bit extra before it was perfect for me. I guess I just have a sweet tooth!

  5. So I make Chili Verde/ Arizona Chili that has this, or very close to it, as the base. Brown chunks of pork shoulder and simmer together for an hour. Serve over a little rice and top with sour cream and lime juice. You guys have the best recipes. My husband says that my cooking has improved so much and I have you both to thank! so THANK YOU!!!!

  6. Looks YUMMY! I love you guys! You're so funny and entertaining not to mention full of tastey info! I plugged you guys on my lil ol blog 😀

  7. I've wanted an enchilada recipe forever and of coarse here it is. You seem to read my mind on a weekly basis.

  8. Question: Whenever I use enchilada sauce we don't end up using all of it and it usually ends up spoiling in the fridge. Can I freeze this to store the excess? Have you ever canned it?

  9. Krissy–Yep, any extra can be frozen. I'm a total canning virgin, but I IMAGINE this can be canned. And how awesome would THAT be???

    1. No, this sauce cannot be canned safely, UNLESS you are using a pressure canner, as it has chicken stock in it. A pressure canner is not the same as a pressure cooker. You’d probably have to process it close to an hour under pressure, so it would lose the freshness of the tomatillos.

  10. I am totally making this sauce this weekend. We have a mess of chicken taquitos frozen right now and I bet this sauce would ROCK them to no end (I wonder if I will replace this sauce with my IV of Sarah's creamy lime cilantro dressing…hmmmm). HUGZ!

  11. I was so excited to try this when I saw the post as I LOVE Cafe Rio but have moved out of state and can't get it a regularly as I would like! I have it simmering on the stove right now and my house smells SoOoOoOo good!! Can't wait to try it on our pork burritos tonight!! Thanks for the recipe!

  12. Just made it and it turned out great thanks for sharing! I would think you could can this, I might just give it a try!

  13. I gave this a try today after going to 3 different grocery stores (I live in Canada and Mexican ingredients aren't as easy to find, I guess. ugh.) but it is totally worth it because my house smells so goooood! I love it already, thanks! And I miss Cafe Rio soooooo much.

  14. OmyGosh!!!I have been searching for a recipe for yummy green sauce. It's expensive to drive to Trader Joe's all the time. Closest being Vegas. Ugh!! THANK YOU for sharing your creation. My family is in love.

  15. This is the bomb!! I love it!! Being a mexican I can say it does taste authentic. I have passed it around to a bunch of people. I think I may can some for friends. Of course I add a lot more chili 🙂 I also use this to make Green Enchilada’s. I use a rotisserie chicen (or chicken breast), corn tortilla’s (halved and heated in a pan),Your amazing Green sauce,1 (16 ounce) package shredded Monterey Jack cheese and 1 (8 ounce) container sour cream. Layer like a lasagna, put in preheated over of 350 covered for 45 minutes. OMG!! Yummy!! Thank you so much for a great recipe!!

  16. I craved green enchilada sauce all through my pregnancy a year ago. If only I would have found this then! Even now, it is something we eat once a month, and this is the perfect recipe. Thanks for sharing.

  17. This looks great, thanks! Would you say its more like the Cafe Rio mild sauce, or medium sauce? I’m guessing its the mild by the ingredients since the medium seems to be made with roasted green chilies…if this is like the mild, does anyone have a recipe for the medium sauce? Thank you!

    1. Wendi–It’s been awhile since I’ve had the medium sauce and I don’t think I’ve ever had the mild sauce, but I based the recipe off the medium sauce and I think it’s pretty close. If you want, you can always roast the chilies first.

  18. I just found this receipe and im making it tomarrow in a Texas Pork Burritos. I’ll let you know how it comes out……….

  19. Thanks for this AMAZING recipe! I roasted the tomatillos, jalapenos and bell peppers under the broiler before blending. I have a simple blender that doesn’t liquify solids too well but the roasted peppers and tomatillos–softened from the roasting–gave in right away. I used this to make enchiladas stuffed with chicken, roasted poblanos, and cheese and it turned out great. By the way, I’m from Southern Arizona but currently live in the Midwest. This sauce sent my belly on a much needed trip home.

  20. Thank you!! I love Cafe Rio, but it is so much cheaper to make things at home! This recipe makes me very happy!!

  21. Could I use green tomaotes for this recipe. I was just given a ton of them and don’t eat much fried foods…. just wondering. Thanks!

  22. Im so glad you published this recipe. I lived in Vegas for short time a literally lived on Cafe Rio enchiladas with that green sauce. You cant even come close to that food here in NY. I miss that good food you guys have out west so much! Thank you again, would love to feature this recipe on Hamptons Chefs Society if you let us?

  23. This is the best sauce ever! I love to throw some pork, chicken or roast in a crock pot with this sauce in a crock pot all day! It’s the best! Thank you 🙂

  24. Hi! I was wondering about how many cups this makes? I’m considering doubling it, but then I don’t want to make more than I can freeze. I have been buying canned enchilada sauce and noticed it has MSG, so I’m determined to make my own. Thank you for the recipe!

  25. I made this just last night out of total necessity since our local markets don’t carry green enchilada sauce and I needed 2 cups of the stuff for an enchilada dish I was making. Have to tell you this was quite a step outside of my usual food “comfort zone” being a life-long Mid-Atlantic girl (Old Bay flowing through my veins) BUT…your recipe walked me clearly through the process and even showed me that those alien-ish tomatillos are nothing to fear! I followed the exact recipe, simmered for about an hour and ended up with about 6 1/2 – 7 cups of sauce. Love the lime flavor and my husband has declared that it tastes just like the green sauce we had in Santa Fe! (Needless to say, this Mid-Atlantic girl is so proud of herself – thanks for a great, easy, and delicious recipe!!) 🙂

  26. In Mexico the tomatillo is typically softened first by placing in boiling water for a few minutes.

  27. I just made this and it turned out great! I had been buying canned sauce for a chicken enchilada recipe I make but 1) it’s kind of expensive to buy and 2) it has all sorts of stuff that I can’t pronounce in the ingredient list! 🙂 I’m so glad I found this recipe. It was super easy and quick. Thanks for such a great recipe! 🙂

  28. I am makeing chicken enchiladas tomorrow, and thought I would get a jump start and make the sauce today. Have never made enchilada sauce before and found this recipe very easy. The flavor is wonderful!!! I will be canning this for future meals. Thanks for a great recipe!

  29. How long will this keep in the fridge? I forgot to freeze it and went on vacation. It’s been about 7 or 8 days since I made it. Is it still good?

  30. dumb question…but roughly how many tomtillos is 1 1/2 pound…i didnt weigh when i bought i just filled two bags….thanks

  31. I’ve made this recipe several times and it never fails. It’s soooo yummy and makes my kitchen smell delicious while simmering! The perfect complement to go with the knockoff Cafe Rio sweet pork recipe – which is awesome, because I don’t have a Cafe Rio close by anymore! I just made this again yesterday to stock the freezer. Thank you, thank you!

  32. Canning? Either add something acidic, or pressure can it. Most canning recipes suggest lemon juice when acidity must be raised, but for this, lime juice (yes it can be purchased as bottled concentrate) would probably be truer to flavor.

    I was given this link along with some salsa and tomato soup canning recipes. The salsa recipe called for 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar, so a substitution of lime juice might do the trick.

  33. I canned this delicious recipe today!! I just added 1/2 TBS lime juice to each pint. Waterbathed for 40 minutes and it turned out great!! Thanks so much…..

    1. How many pints did you get from the batch? My daughter is asking me to make some and can it for her.

    2. you absolutely cannot water bath this it has chicken broth in it! it must be canned under pressure, please please check it out.

  34. I just need a can of enchilada sauce to get a recipe for chili verde going in the slow cooker. What do you think of substituting green Mexican salsa salsa verde (la Costena)? I have some in the fridge and noticed the ingredients are similar. Maybe use less so it doesn’t get too hot? I will have to make your enchilada sauce and freeze it so I don’t run into the problem of not having any on hand, at least as frequently.

  35. LOVE this recipe. It is my family’s favorite. We use it for anything salsa related – tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc.

    Thank you for posting.

  36. I made this again tonight – it’s a favorite in my house!! I am do happy to freeze a couple containers for future dinners, a treat! Thanks for a great recipe…again 🙂

    Btw…I finally was able to try cafe rio while passing through slc airport, I crave it all the time!

  37. I got a receipt like this from a Mexican restaurant owner. But it is MUCH EASIER!! First unhusk the tomatillo rinse them. Rinse and remove stem of jalapeno peppers. Place them both in a large pot and boil them until they are soft. While they are cooking cut onions and cilantro. Remove tomatillos and jalapeno and some of the water. Place in a large mixing bowl. Use a submersible blender. Puree. Add onions and cilantro. Serve. Simple and taste great!! Add as many jalapenos to your taste.

  38. I just made this for our enchiladas fo dinner tonight. Oh my goodness it is amazing!!! My grandmother passed away and she made the best green sauce and this tasted just like she made it. Thank you thank you

  39. As comment 52 noted, why not just make it the usual way? Its easier and quicker. Ingredients vary but adding chicken soup gives this recipe a thicker, salty component which hardly fits its use. And it adds a lot of chemicals for no positive reason.

    1. No, you really need to use recipes specifically formulated and tested for canning, and this one is not!

  40. I made this recipe last year. The only thing I changed was adding green chilies instead of green peppers and I used a natural low sodium chicken broth. I did pressure can it in pint jars leaving a one inch headspace for 60 minutes at 15 pounds pressure as recommended for the altitude I live at and for things with meat broth. I gave some as gifts and served dinners of chicken enchiladas with green enchilada sauce and have been bombarded with requests for the recipe. All around the compliments speak volumes for how tasty this is! Thanks for sharing!

    1. did you add anything like lime juice for the acid .. or is that not needed when you pressure cook it?

  41. Made this sauce yesterday. It is super easy and fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing the recipe. I kept the seeds in the jalapenos and also added a can of Hatch green chilies to the sauce while it was cooking. I made some chicken thighs in the slow cooker and made wet chicken burritos for dinner (and breakfast this morning). I am committing this recipe to memory as it is a must have!

  42. Hi. I was really looking forward to reading your page on Green enchilada sauce but the print is so darn small, I just couldn’t do it. My eyesight is actually improving as I get older, while my friends have to put glasses on to read, I have to take mine off. Oh well. Just wanted to let you know I would’ve really enjoyed reading this. It looked very informative. Cheers. Cassi

  43. I am trying to find a sauce that snit salty I have notice most of the one you get in the store are real salty

  44. Couple questions, first, is green enchilada sauce the same as salsa verde? Next question when this recipe says “green peppers” are you really using the green bell peppers as seen in the picture? Thanks, I’m super excited to make this in the next couple days just wondering if I’m really suppose to use the bell pepper instead of like an Anaheim chile. Thanks!

  45. Hi Sara. I just wanted to tell you that this Green Sauce is the best I have ever had. It will be my go to sauce going forward. Thank you so much for posting it!! 🙂

  46. I love this recipe! I used vegetable broth to make it vegan, still tastes great. It comes out fresh like a salsa even after boiling it down but worked very well as an enchilada sauce too.

  47. YUM! So seriously this was my 1st attempt @ green chili sauce & I DID IT! Not too complicated & very tasty.

  48. Hands down some of the best green sauce I’ve ever made. I usually use it as either an enchilada sauce or just use it as a green salsa!! AAAHHHHHMAAAAZZZING!!

  49. We have a guy at work that brings all his home grown veggies in to give away. I had some Anaheim chiles that he gave me that I used as the 2 green peppers. I am always on the search for a homemade green sauce for my chicken enchiladas. It is simmering right now and by the taste test, I think it’s a keeper!

  50. I toasted whole cumin seeds and ground them in a blender. So fragrant! My daughter has an aversion to onions, so I pureed the sauteed onions and garlic along with the tomatillos and peppers. Tasted great and she never knew there were onions in the sauce. I’m always experimenting in the kitchen, so I made a second batch with green peas and kale from the garden added in the blender. Tasted great!

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