Great salsas are now everywhere–fresh and locally made favorites can be found in most U.S. cities. Salsa has replaced ketchup as this country’s #1 selling condiment. The same can’t said for enchilada sauces. Even discriminating food consumers regularly turn to cans of one of the three national suppliers when making enchiladas from scratch. Fillers, sugars, starches and other additives are listed on the labels of these cans. They lack real pepper flavor and frankly are not very good. The solution? Dried peppers from your local store and 20 minutes of time. You will have enough sauce for the meal at hand and a jar to put in the freezer for next time–that’s ten minutes per meal.
Heat level: This recipe should give you a medium-hot enchilada sauce, however, a lot depends not only on the heat level of peppers you choose, but whether you include the seeds. My typical combo is anchos (they are dried poblano peppers) and New Mexico peppers. I cut off the top ½ inch with the stem and shake out the seeds, leaving a few remaining.
If it winds up too hot, throw a few pieces of raw beet into your blender and it will cool the sauce down. Not hot enough? Then add some dried red pepper flakes from your cupboard or a few drops of hot sauce.
A note on dried peppers: when you find a store that carries them, buy extra, they will keep easily for 6 months if stored in a sealed container like the original packaging or a ziplock in a cool cupboard. Look for ones with the stems on, if possible, which indicates they aren’t really old. Mixing several varieties you will get a more robust layered flavor, but straight-up anchos (the easiest ones to come by) will be delicious even alone. I made mine that way for years. Stores are now beginning to carry more varieties–Ballard Market in Seattle has a good supply of fine quality dried peppers in bulk. Beware–habaneros are really really really hot.
Select the pepper you want to use–about 2 ½-3 ounces. If you are using anchos, that would be about 6 peppers.
Give the peppers a rinse under warm water. Cut off the stems and the top ½ inch of the peppers with a scissors, shaking out the seeds as pictured above in directions. If no seeds come out then cut a bit lower on the pepper. You may also just break off the tip of the pepper with your hands–please remember to wear gloves as the pepper seeds can cause burning. Keep your hands away from your eyes when handling peppers, and wash them thoroughly as soon as possible to avoid skin irritation.
Place the peppers (not the tips and stems) in a small sauce pan with 2 ½ -3 cups of broth or water–enough to cover; you can do a combination of broth and water. Bring liquid to boil and immediately turn pan off and cover with a lid for 15 minutes until softened. They can sit in the water longer. If you are in hurry, bring to boil and reduce to a low simmer for 10 minutes with a lid on, then turn off heat–they should be softened at that point or within 5 minutes.
While peppers soften, peel and chop yam into small enough pieces to soften during a ten minute sauté, about ½ inch. Peel and dice the two onions. I do this all in the Cuisinart, using the on-off pulse method.
The onions and yam will be pureed in a blender so small is fine, just don’t turn the onions to mush. Add olive oil to skillet and sauté yam and onions for about ten minutes. I usually salt and pepper to taste as they cook down.
Pour the peppers and the liquid from the sauce pan into a blender, and puree for 5-10 seconds. Then add the sautéed onions and yam. Turn the blender back on to puree or increase the speed to higher level if you desire. I run my blender until the sauce is uniformly smooth. Taste the sauce. If you want it less hot, or less brown and more red in color, or with a brighter flavor, then peel ½ a raw beet and add one-inch pieces to the blender and puree. Add the other half if you like it.
If more heat is needed then add ½ tsp red pepper flakes to start and taste. Or you can add a few drops of hot sauce–again, tasting as you go.
Add up to four fresh garlic cloves (diced or pressed), if desired. Finish with salt and pepper to taste. Freeze half of the mixture for another day.