Green Enchilada Sauce

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…


woman in denim shirt holding a salad bowl
Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. 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?

  2. 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!

    1. What are green tomatoes even like? Are they kind of tart? You could always give it a shot and see! 🙂

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

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

    1. I know this is an old post but . . .You can get most Mexican ingredients via Amazon. Ask your grocer to carry fresh jalapenos, Anaheims, and Poblanos. Also, you can buy dried chile negro or New Mexico chiles online and reconstitute them and scrape out the insides. Labor intensive method, but delicious. You should roast and peel all of your chile peppers. I roast mine over a gas flame on the stove. Works great and the peel comes off easily.

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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?

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

  17. 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 😀

  18. 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!!!!

  19. 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!

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

  21. 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!

  22. 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!