Chicken (or Turkey) Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce

There’s not much better than an old school Chicken (or turkey) Enchilada: the tortilla wrapped around a creamy filling, napped in an easy Ranchero Sauce. Finished with a sprinkle of cheese, these are truly delicious. The sauce, flavorful (but not hot) gives a sharp contrast to the enchilada, itself. It’s a beautiful thing.

Chicken Enchiladas Rancheros
Chicken Enchiladas Rancheros

While by no means a “diet” or “healthy food, this fresh garden ranchero sauce on an enchilada shaves hundreds of calories per serving over the white, sour cream and green chili enchiladas that are so popular today. Ya gotta love those – pure comfort food (and I make those, too) but these are outstanding and sneak in a few veggies.

Purists (you know who I mean – the ones that order their chilis, grind them up themselves, and I’ve been there myself) would argue for days over this ingredient or that in the sauce, perhaps, especially over the use of bell peppers and the chili powder…I’m going to answer ahead of time: It’s delicious, it’s fast and it’s easy. And I don’t care. *smiles and takes another bite…*

Plus, I’m gonna make up for all that and show you the best way to make your tortillas so they stay beautiful and don’t get soggy. You’ll want to use this hint anytime you make any enchilada recipe. It takes a few minutes – but it’s Soooo worth it.

This is a very cost effective meal, especially if you pick up your ingredients on sale and serve it with a budget side like refried beans. Grocery store cheese is the cheapest option, but think about the fact that more flavorful Mexican cheeses will allow you more “bang for your buck,” a bit more flavor for a smidge more cost, if budget allows.

Ranchero Chicken (or Turkey) Enchiladas

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: medium
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  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion (the other half goes inside the enchilada)
  • 1 bell pepper, finely chopped, or use poblano, charred, skinned and chopped, or a small can of green chile peppers
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 15 ounces tomato sauce
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon vinegar (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

In a large skillet, saute onion and bell peppers if using (no need to saute Poblanos or the canned chiles, just add them when the onions are done) in oil until softened. Slowly stir in the tomato sauce and stock along with chili & cumin.

Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, about 15 minutes until slightly thickened, stirring now and then. This sauce should still be quite loose because the tortillas will be dipped in them.

Add the sugar, vinegar if using and salt & pepper to taste. Simmer a minute or two longer to blend the flavors.

Note on Sauce: Many Ranchero sauces contain just a touch of vinegar which lends a slightly sweet/sour vibe. If you’d like, add about 1/2 teaspoon white or apple cider vinegar to the sauce. Increase sugar to 2 teaspoons.


  • 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup of milk, half and half or cream
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened or a soft Mexican cheese such as a Queso Fresca
  • 4 ounces jack or cheddar cheese, or a mix (Colby Jack is fine, just not as flavorful)
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded turkey or chicken (about 15 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional depending on the saltiness of the broth and cheese)

Place all cheeses (room temperature if using cream cheese) in a bowl. Gradually add milk of your choice, blending. Add onion and stir in. Add shredded poultry and mix together well, breaking up the poultry as it is mixed. (If the poultry is warm, this may be easier.) Taste, add the salt if desired.

Note: The onions inside the enchilada are not cooked, so don’t go overboard on them; if there are too many, they will overwhelm the filling. Other than that, all these ingredients can be played around with a bit – add more cheese or not as you desire. Changing the volume may change the amount of filling in each enchilada.


  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 2 tablespoons (or so) of oil
  • 1/2 cup (or more) shredded cheddar cheese, or cheese of your choice. Preferred would be a crumbled Queso Fresca, Cojita or a mild Feta.

Prepare a 9 x 13″ casserole by coating with cooking spray and covering the bottom with about 1/2 cup of sauce.

Heat about a quarter inch of oil over medium high heat in a skillet just large enough to hold tortilla. Test for readiness by dipping an edge of the tortilla in the oil. If small bubbles form around the tortilla, the oil is hot enough. Lay out a large plate to place the tortillas on after their dipping and prior to being rolled. (hint: make this an “assembly line” of the oil, the sauce, the large plate and then the casserole.

(see photo, below, on color and texture of tortilla when it should be removed from oil)

Working with six tortillas at a time, and using tongs if possible, lightly fry each tortilla in a skillet with oil (about 1/4 inch deep) until it just begins to crisp and takes on a bit of a golden color, but doesn’t become totally crisp: place tortilla in oil, immediately turn it over and fry for a few seconds. When the edge begins to firm up and the tortilla shows a few bubbles, turn again and fry for a few seconds more. Tortilla should only have a slight crispness and still be quite flexible.

Immediately lay the tortilla in the skillet with the sauce and turn over, making certain both sides are coated in sauce, without a lot of excess. Remove and lay the tortilla on a plate. Repeat with the next five tortillas, stacking each on top of the previous one. With tongs, gently turn the tortilla stack over. (You will repeat, shortly with the next six, after these are rolled.)

Place a scant 1/3 cup of filling on the top tortilla in the stack, roll and place in the casserole, seam side down, overlapping slightly. Repeat with the next five tortillas. If tortilla begins to crack, try rolling from a different edge, keeping the crack to the inside of the roll. Repeat process with the next six tortillas.

There should be enough room in the casserole dish for a row of 10 and two tortillas in the space on the side. When pan is filled, cover with what sauce remains, making sure that the edges have a bit of sauce on them. (While a spoon works, it is often easier to resort to clean hands.)

Cover pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until hot and warmed through. Uncover, sprinkle with cheese and bake three to five minutes longer. If not using cheese, uncover and let tortillas crisp up a bit, about the same amount of time.

Depending on the type of cheese used, it may be sprinkled on when serving, instead. Placing cheese in a strip down the middle always makes it seem like “more.”

Garnish as desired.

from the kitchen of

This tortilla is just right - a bit of golden color, the edges are firm and it has a few bubbles, but it is still flexible.
This tortilla is just right – a bit of golden color, the edges are firm and it has a few bubbles, but it is still flexible.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! Do not discount the savings!
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read {Strategies Applied} for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.


Per Serving: 271 Calories; 16g Fat (52.5% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 61mg Cholesterol; 950mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 1 Grain (Starch); 1 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 2 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.

Kitchen & Cooking Hack:

When using cheese to top a casserole, use a better, stronger cheese. Then rather than sprinkling it over the top, try adding it judiciously. Here in this casserole, I left the edges “nude” and sprinkled all the cheese down the middle. That means a lot less cheese is used but there still is that melty, stringing cheese goodness we all love – only a lot less of it. The same amount would have been “lost” had it been evenly sprinkled over the top of the whole casserole.

Put Your Own Spin on It:

Vary the cheeses in this – jack would be good, or if you have access to some great Mexican cheeses, by all means use them. Serve with refried beans.

My Pay Off:

This makes 12 enchiladas – if your family is smaller, you could certainly freeze and then reheat 1/2 of them – since they keep so well in the fridge, we generally have part in the beginning of the week, and the rest for a second meal later.

Recipe originally priced November 2011 for $5.46, repriced March 2014 for $4.16 – the difference? I’ve gotten much better at recognizing and shopping good sales on cheese!

Helpful Links:

If you came to this recipe looking for a way to use leftover turkey or chicken, be sure to check out the link below for 12 Days of Turkey. You might want to see the sister post for 12 Days of Ham, too.