How To Make Authentic Gluten-Free Enchiladas

Authentic gluten-free enchiladas with chile guajillo sauce

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Over the last few years, I have really fallen in love with enchiladas. I have been researching and interviewing every cook that I know to find the best gluten-free enchiladas recipes out there. Every region has a different style and the vast majority of homemade enchiladas are naturally gluten-free. Everyone has a family recipe or a favorite regional style that tells a story about that person. Learning to cook enchiladas is a delicious introduction to the world of Mexican dried chiles. With just a few basic techniques you will be able to prepare amazing enchiladas while improvising and experimenting to find your favorite gluten-free enchilada sauce and filling.

What is an enchilada? Well, I think of an enchilada as a subcategory of the taco. It is a corn tortilla with a filling and a sauce. The tortilla can be passed through a chile sauce and lightly fried or bathed in a chile sauce and baked without frying. There are more sauces than I could ever mention but I am going to focus on my three favorites: pure chile guajillo sauce, tomatillo green sauce, and a tomato-chile blended sauce. Much like the sauces, there are almost infinite combinations of things to put in the enchiladas. My two favorite fillings are kind of basic but I like chicken with onion or cheese with onion.

Freddy showing off a tray of gluten free enchiladas rojas
Freddy taught me the techniques to make great enchiladas

Enchilada Recipes And Family History

As I bounced around different parts of California and Mexico I noticed the enchiladas are different just about everywhere. I enjoy looking for downhome restaurants that serve enchiladas and talking with people who know how to make them. Interacting with a lot of people who know how to cook, many of them in the restaurant industry, has given me the chance to interview people about their favorite enchilada recipe. I always follow up with questions about family history. Some of the recipes have been handed down for generations and tell a story about where their grandparents came from. Others learned their enchilada sauce recipe at culinary arts school or in a restaurant and changed it just a little bit to make it their own.

I recommend you try the enchiladas everywhere you travel to and report back to me what your favorites are.

Enchiladas are just another example of foods that I have known my whole life but are drastically different in Mexico than they are in the US. The thick, industrial tortillas, orange cheese, and salsa from a bottle that you traditionally find in Southern California homes never excited me. The first time I tasted Guerrero style enchiladas with a salsa made from scratch and natural ingredients I was obsessed.

This video is in Spanish but Angela is taking Mexican YouTube by storm. Her channel is called “From My Ranch To Your Kitchen” and she is a grandmother who makes homestyle food as you find in the ranches. Her kitchen and enchiladas recipes are beautiful.

Are Enchiladas Gluten-Free??

Gluten-free enchiladas should be the standard. There is no reason to add gluten to the sauce, tortilla or filling unless you need to stabilize an industrialized sauce that will be sitting in a store for a long period of time. Keep an eye out for the chicken stock that many people will use to hydrate the chiles. Many of the commercial brands like Swiss Knorr contain gluten. Personally, I think that homemade sauces are the best and I love learning how each cook chooses their ingredients.

Ingredients for making gluten free enchiladas

Ingredients For Making Gluten-Free Enchiladas

I want to talk a little bit about finding good ingredients.

Chiles For Making Enchiladas

Enchiladas are highlighting one very special ingredient that is native to Mexico: the chile. While chiles are found all over the world I don’t think there is a country with a greater diversity of chiles than Mexico. Much like corn and agave, chile is a part of the Mexican identity. There is a huge variety of chile peppers and different communities specialize in one chile or another. The highlands of Jalisco around Yahualica specialize in a very spicy chile de arbol called chile yahualica. In the highlands of Oaxaca, you will find the only farms that grow chile chilhuacle, a chile considered to be an aristocratic ingredient by the Mixteco people.

You should pick up some heirloom varietal seed catalog loke Rare Seeds or Seeds of change and grow some exotic chiles that nobody in your neighborhood has access to. The sauces always taste better when you grow your own ingredients.

Mexican chiles for gluten free enchiladas
Chiles from left to right: cascabel, guajillo, pasilla, and ancho

Making gluten-free enchilada sauce is a wonderful way to learn about dried chiles. I recommend starting with pure chile guajillo on your first couple of batches. Once you know what chile guajillo tastes like you can start to blend other chiles into your sauce to find the flavors that you like the most.

Chile guajillo is the most common type of chile used for making enchiladas. It is the dried form of the chile mirasol and you will hear the names used interchangeably. The guajillo is a mild chile with a tough red skin and sweet, fruity flavor. After the chile guajillo comes the chile ancho. A 50/50 blend of chile guajillo to chile ancho is a very common recipe in the cenadurias (traditional restaurants) in Guadalajara. Before you start blending chiles I recommend making gluten-free enchiladas sauce out of chile guajillo to learn about this very important chile. 

Cheese

One of the things that I love about making gluten-free enchiladas is experimenting with so many different ingredients. I am constantly on the look-out for quality ingredients that I have not tried before. I have used close to a dozen different kinds of cheeses in my enchiladas and they always turn out great.

Recently, I chose a fresh queso cotija that I bought in Mercado de Abastos. I always ask where my products come from and I expect that reputable vendors know where their products are made. This cheese was made in Concepción de Buenos Aires which is near Mazamitla and only 30 miles or so from the town of Cotija. I know that this area is famous for making excellent quality cheeses.

You can’t go wrong when choosing your cheeses so experiment and try something new.

100% Corn Tortillas

I can not emphasize enough the importance of good corn tortillas. You need to shop around a little bit to find the best tortillas in your community. It is worth it to drive a little farther to get the good tortillas. Look for all-natural, heirloom varietals with beautiful colors. Corn is am amazing plant and getting to taste all the different kinds is special for a celiac.

The best tortillas for making enchiladas are a little thinner than your standard tortillas. In Mercado de Abastos I do not go to the tortilla makers but the lady who sells tostadas. She has tortillas especially made for enchiladas.

Another key to making great gluten-free enchiladas that don’t break apart is to fry them well. We don’t want crispy tortillas but we do want the tortillas to be fried for a couple of seconds on each side. It will help you roll the enchiladas without the tortilla breaking.

Gluten-Free Red Enchiladas Sauce

  • 100 grams of chile guajillo (about 15 chiles)
  • 1/4 of a medium-sized onion
  • 1 small piece of garlic
  • 1/2 liter of chicken stock or water

The first step to making gluten-free enchiladas sauce is to prepare the chiles. We want to clean the chile of the seeds, stems, and veins. The best way to do this is with a pair of scissors. If you don’t have a pair of kitchen scissors then I recommend that you use latex gloves. Chile guajillos are not spicy but you need to get in the habit of protecting your hands when you work with chiles.

Start by ripping off the stems and cutting the chile lengthwise with the scissors. Use the scissors to separate the seeds and the veins.

Cleaning chiles to make gluten free enchiladas

Now that you have a selection of cleaned chiles it is time to start cooking. We are going to toast the chiles to activate the oils much like you would toast almonds or sesame seeds. Heat your comal or frying pan to medium-high heat and start adding the chiles a few at a time. Take care not to burn them. You don’t want blackened chiles. The chile guajillo should turn a little darker but stay red or maroon. If you see smoke you have gone too far.

Toasting chile guajillos for gluten free enchiladas

How you prepare the garlic and onion is a matter of taste. I like to char them on the comal before hydrating the chiles.

Once you have toasted all of the chiles it is time to hydrate them. I like to use chicken stock but it is perfectly acceptable to use water to hydrate the chiles. Just make sure to retain some of that liquid for the blender. If you are going to use store-bought chicken stock make 100% sure that it is gluten-free. There are a lot of brands of chicken stock that contain gluten, be careful. If you are going to fill your enchiladas with chicken it is a great idea to boil your chicken so that you get chicken stock and cooked chicken.

gluten fee enchilada sauce

Use just enough liquid (chicken stock or water) to cover the chiles and add the onion and garlic.

Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for about 5-10 minutes to hydrate the chiles. Look for a change in the color as the chiles take on a more opaque tone of red.

cooking chile guajillo for gluten free enchiladas sauce

Fish out the garlic and onion first and load that into the bottom of the blender. You want to make sure that the garlic is ground up really well. Then add all of the chiles to the blender. Add some of the chile liquid to the blender to make it blend smoother.

Press the pulse button a couple of times to avoid the sauce from splashing around. You may also want to put a rag over the top of the blender if you have an older blender that doesn’t seal perfectly. Yes, I have hit the ceiling while blending chile sauce, and chile guajillo is a beautiful shade of red.

Make sure to blend your sauce really well. The skins of the chile guajillo are tough and you want to get all the juice you can out of them. After blending you need to strain the sauce. No matter how well you blend your sauce there will be some pieces of the skin left over. I prefer sauces that have been strained. No seeds, no stems.

Strain your enchiladas sauce for a better texture

Now that you have a clean, strained sauce it is time to cook it down a little bit. I cook with manteca (pork lard) but many people will use a light oil like grapeseed or vegetable oil. Heat your comal and throw a teaspoon of lard into the center. Wait for it to melt and then add your sauce. Heat your sauce at a rolling boil for a few minutes. You will notice a difference in the taste of a cooked chile sauce from a raw chile sauce. I learned this while making mole. 

Filling Your Gluten-Free Enchiladas

Enchilada filling of cheese and onion

You can fill your gluten-free enchiladas with just about anything your heart desires. I have seen everything from crab and seafood enchiladas to 100% vegan enchiladas. I can’t decide if my favorite fillings are cheese or chicken. What I do love, is experimenting with new types of cheese. Whenever I find an exotic cheese purveyor I get really excited and think about the enchilada sauce that cheese will complement.

Frying The Tortillas

Now, there are many different ways to prepare the tortillas and fill your enchiladas. My mother-in-law doesn’t fry her tortillas because she is more health-conscious than I am. Chef Carlos Aldapa mixes the oil with the chile sauce adobo and passes the tortilla through the mixture killing two birds with one stone. I like to pass the tortilla through the chile sauce adobo and then through the oil.

Try to minimize the amount of oil that you put in the pan and only add more as needed.

Frying the tortilla for enchiladas

When you pass the tortilla through the oil it is best if the tortillas are cold. You are not frying the tortilla crispy but just warming it up and making it pliable. 

Once you get really good you can fill the tortilla quickly as they come out of the oil. I am still slow so I do a few tortillas, then fill and roll them, and then do a few more tortillas. My wife laughs that I have delicate hands.

I typically fry a few tortillas then roll a few enchiladas.

How To Garnish And Serve Enchiladas

There are just as many different ways to garnish and serve enchiladas as there are different sauces and fillings. Everyone has their favorites. I prefer thinly sliced red onion, cream, and some more cheese. Lots of people like to put lettuce on top of the enchiladas and dress it with spicy salsa. I don’t like lettuce as much as I like something with a little more crunch, like cabbage. We get a cabbage and kale salad at Costco that is great to put on top of the enchiladas but it is not very ‘authentic’.

I loved the potato and carrot salad that Angela from De Mi Rancho a Tu Cocina makes with her enchiladas. She uses the enchilada sauce to flavor the potatoes and carrots. It is super typical of the enchiladas in Michoacan State.

The great thing about enchiladas is you can garnish your food however you wish.

Conclusion

Enchiladas have been a big learning experience for me. Moving to Mexico and shopping in the local markets, I really wanted to learn how to cook with chiles. Making enchiladas has given me the opportunity to taste lots of different chiles and experiment with blending them into sauces.

I think the best part of learning to cook gluten-free enchiladas has been the conversations I have had with so many different people. I love hearing about family history and where my friends’ grandparents come from. It is really cool to see how regional styles move around the country.

Lastly, if you are gluten intolerant, learning to make enchiladas needs to be in your repertoire of recipes. There are so many variations that you are bound to find one that you can’t live without. I highly recommend it.

If you enjoyed this article on making enchiladas then you are definitely going to enjoy eating in Guadalajara. Have a look at my list of the best restaurants, street food and food courts in Guadalajara.

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