Colorado sauce reveals the essence of authentic Mexican food

Chili peppers for Colorado sauce

Good Colorado sauce begins with your dried chili peppers.

By Tom Havran

Overused words like “authentic,” “traditional” and “real” are proffered like bottomless bowls of genetically modified corn chips and watery salsa to describe the corporatized Mexican food that is so sadly pervasive in America these days. (I weep for what Taco Bell has done to Mexican food.)

For your Cinco de Mayo party this year, honor the true culinary spirit of Mexico by making Colorado sauce. My recipe below employs native ingredients with a simple method that will lend Mexican flavors and aromas to an endless array of dishes – from enchiladas to rice and beans.

Of all cuisines, Mexican is my favorite (which is why I’ve made Colorado sauce on countless occasions), and at no other time of the year does it seem less honored or more insulted than when it’s hijacked as part of the Americanized take on Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

Every May 5th, we don our cheap sombreros, fake “bandito” mustaches and gather at the local “Mexican” eatery to get boozily obnoxious on overly sweet margaritas, canned beans and gallons of oozing Colby Jack cheese. The people of Mexico, their culture and the food they have given the world deserve a lot more respect.

The staple crops that have come out of Native American culture, and especially Mexico, since before pre-recorded history have changed the way the world eats. Can you imagine your diet without corn, beans, chili peppers, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins or potatoes?

Sauce Colorado (sauce that is the color of red) is a rich, smoky, savory and densely-flavored condiment that you will surely recognize as the essence of real Mexican flavor. Even if you’ve never made or tasted it, you will perceive its authenticity immediately; Colorado sauce has a soul and a spirit of identity that is so palpable (and palatable!) that it is revelatory and attitude-changing.

After you’ve had Colorado sauce, you’ll find you can’t cook Mexican food without it, and you’ll certainly think twice before donning those ridiculous party sombreros or drinking that bottled margarita mix. Viva Mexico!

Colorado (Red) Sauce Recipe


4 dried New Mexico chili peppers

2 dried ancho chili peppers

1 dried chipotle chili pepper

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, cut and sifted

½ teaspoon ground cumin seed

½ teaspoon ground coriander seed

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon salt

3-4 cups of warm water in a mixing bowl

4 cups seasoned broth or stock of choice (vegetable, chicken, etc.)


  1. Inspect peppers and wipe clean with a slightly damp towel, remove stems and most of the seeds, tear into large pieces.

    dried chili peppers

    Dried New Mexico, ancho and chipotle chili peppers.

  2. Peel garlic cloves, crush them under the side of a knife blade; set aside with peppers.
  3. Heat a large, dry pan over medium heat. When hot, add peppers and garlic. Toast for 7-10 minutes while constantly tossing. Do not allow ingredients to scorch.
  4. Place the toasted peppers in of bowl of warm water to soak for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Remove chilies from soaking water and place in food processor with garlic, vegetable oil, cumin, coriander and 1 cup of the soaking water.
  6. Turn on food processor and add enough of the broth or stock in a stream until a smooth sauce forms. Continue processing until all of the peppers are fully pureed. Add more soaking water or stock if the sauce becomes too tight.
  7. For an especially silky texture, use a spatula to push the sauce through a fine mesh sieve into a pan. Add Mexican oregano and salt to taste. Adjust seasonings if necessary and simmer until sauce reaches desired consistency.

    Colorado sauce

    You can’t match the smells that will fill your kitchen as your Colorado sauce simmers.

Suggested uses for your Colorado sauce:

  1. Use as a sauce for your favorite Mexican dishes – enchiladas, huevos rancheros, quesadillas, tacos, nachos, tamales, etc. Here, we used it with simple bean, cheese and cilantro enchiladas.Enchiladas with Colorado sauceEnchiladas with Colorado sauce
  2. Use as the authentic (no tomatoes allowed!) base for chili soup or chili con carne dishes.
  3. Thin with additional seasoned stock or broth to create a braising liquid for chicken, pork, beef or stewed frijoles.
  4. Use as a base for barbeque sauce, mole or marinade.
  5. Use as an unexpected flavor in barbequed baked or refried beans.
  6. Fork into cooked rice.
  7. Add a dash to your Bloody Mary.
  8. Fold a bit into chili con queso or drizzle over bubbling queso fundido.


Tom HavranAbout the author: Tom is communicator of natural living for Frontier, Simply Organic and Aura Cacia brands. In other words, he’s a very imaginative copywriter. A local boy, raised on a farm just down the road from the company’s headquarters in Norway, Tom enjoys drawing, plant hoarding, cooking and living the simple life in the beautiful state of Iowa.

6 thoughts on “Colorado sauce reveals the essence of authentic Mexican food

  1. I prefer to “kick it up a notch” (ala famous Foodie, Emeril) and use whole spices such as Cumin and Coriander and toast them in a dry skillet to the smoking point/color change first; then grind those in a molcajete, mortar/pestle or coffee mill to powder them, before adding to the fray. This really adds mystical magic to the dish.

    • Thanks for your comment! When we made this recipe for the blog, we toasted whole cumin and coriander seeds, then ground them. You’re right — it was mystical magic! We certainly recommend that method!

      • I use the molcajete a lot, for those that don’t what it is, it is a mortar & pestle to grind spices or crush foods check out what it looks like at I am used to grinding my spices & crushing garlic & so many things with my molcajete. I love to make Chile Colorado, my recipe varies a little but I’m sure your recipe is very tasty! Growing up in Western Texas, Big Bend area, there are many delicious foods to eat. I use my Chile Colorado for enchiladas ( in Western Texas, many like to top their enchiladas with a fried egg on top) & I made asado ( not to be confused with carne asada), tamales, chili, I occasionally add some to my Tortilla Soup! I love to add it to my rice! Great job with the instructions & pictures! I wish you well! This is coming from a Proud Texan who loves to eat tasty foods with some heat & share chile colorado with others who have never had the please of tasting such delicious foods such as this. 🙂 Oh, I have also made chile colorado & added Nopales( cactus) & added pork with onions other spices!!!!! Ahhhhhh!!!!!

  2. Pingback: 15 best recipes of 2013 | The Cayenne Room


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s