I have a deep and abiding love of Mexican food. It all started with the Taco House, a little shack of a hut in an area referred to as the “Iowa Great Lakes.” Back in those days the Taco House had a dirt parking lot, a sliding window (complete with bug lights) and you’d stand outside, order, get your tacos and eat at one of the picnic tables.
The Taco House has grown up now, changed hands and has very mixed reviews, but is still an institution in Arnold’s Park. Those in the know, by the way, stick with tacos and use the marvelous salsa liberally! I’ve grown up, too, traveled a bit, and developed a deep, abiding love of Mexican cuisine.
My next introduction to Mexican food came with a move to Colorado, where I was introduced to the many sauces, salsas and dishes that worked their way north from Mexico, through Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. One of my favorites, and one of the easiest and most versatile of the sauces I learned is the Ranchero Sauce.
Ranchero’s hallmark flavor is the little zippy twang it gets from vinegar along with just a hint of sweetness. Sometimes I see Ranchero recipes that leave out these key ingredients. I scoff at them. Yes, scoff. Hear that? 🙂 It’s scoffing going on. 🙂 It’s the same signature flavor you’ll find in my Aji Salsa. It’s a marvelous combination, and that sweet/sour flavor is found not just in Mexican food, but food throughout Latin America.
While I make a longer cooked version of Ranchero in my Classic Enchiladas, and use smooth, tomato based Ranchero with my Chile Rellanos, this is a Ranchero I whip up when I want to serve Huevos Rancheros, omelettes, or scrambled eggs. I use it, too, when I make my signature Three Cheese Enchiladas with Braised (or pulled) Pork. This fresher Ranchero is a bit chunky, full of tomatoes and bell peppers with a hint of heat from Jalapeno or Serrano.
You can modify this as you wish. Make it hot or as mild, use fresh or canned tomatoes, peppers of your choice. The vegetables can be finely chopped or left chunky or the whole sauce can be blended to a smooth texture. I prefer the vegetables just softened and distinct – a kind of fresh garden sauce. Sometimes it’s thickened with a bit of cornstarch slurry, but it’s just as good slowly simmered and concentrated. Freezes well, but only if a slurry isn’t used.
Simple Ranchero Sauce
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 red pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 green pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 jalapeno or Serrano, minced
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 29 ounce can of whole tomatoes & juice, tomatoes pulsed in a blender or crushed by hand. Fire roasted tomatoes, if you’d like. *
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- Salt to taste
- 1 tablespoon vinegar. I like apple cider, but any will do.
- 1 tablespoon corn starch (optional)
- 2 tablespoons water (optional)
Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan, add onion and peppers and cook until slightly softened. Add garlic, cumin and cayenne and cook for just a minute longer. Add tomatoes, sugar and vinegar and simmer several moments to blend flavors.
There are two options for thickening:
- Make a cornstarch slurry with one tablespoon cornstarch and about 2 tablespoons water, add to mixture in saucepan, stirring well. Bring to a simmer and simmer about a moment until mixture is slightly thickened.
- Or use less juice and/or simmer a bit longer, but without the cornstarch slurry, until thickened as you wish.
This recipe is a good starting point, but feel free to increase/decrease the amounts of sugar, salt, Jalapeno or Serrano, cayenne, vinegar, etc. to suit your taste.
* Tomatoes: In the summer, I often use fresh tomatoes, about 2 pounds, diced, with their juice.
Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:
- Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
- 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 below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.
- Tomatoes: I use coupons and watch for sales on tomatoes, and quite frequently buy either the 15 to 16 ounce cans at no cost – but I also can get the larger 29 – 32 ounce cans for free quite often. Even without a coupon, I won’t pay more than $1.00 for a large can of whole tomatoes, and I stock up when this sale price hits my area. Cost: for me free, but a reasonable price is $1.00.
- Onions: They keep well, so try to buy on sale. Aldi is a good place to find reasonably priced onions. Always less expensive in the fall/winter months, the pricing in my area runs from 33 to 66 cents a pound. Store them in a dark, cool place but not near potatoes. If you’ve bought too many onions, don’t let them go bad.
- Slice or dice them, saute and portion into Ziplocs labeled “onions” and freeze. You’ve just saved yourself a step for next time you make a dish. If you have enough, consider making French Onion Soup. If you use half an onion, consider if you can sauté the rest and put it in a Ziploc in the freezer. If not store in the door where you’ll see it when you’re cooking next. 1 at 33 cents a pound, about 10 cents.
- Jalapenos: Chiles like jalapeno always look expensive per pound, but they’re so small they cost only pennies. The best way to clean seeds and ribs? Not a chef’s knife – just run a teaspoon down the center and get it all in one fell swoop. Cost for one, 10 cents.
- Bell Pepper: There are two types of sales, per pound or per pepper. I usually look for the per pepper pricing; in my area it’s generally cheaper – I’ll then buy the biggest, most gorgeous ones I can find. The peppers are often bagged and sold by a unit price, too. A really good price in our area is about a fifty to seventy cents a pepper for the red, yellow or orange ones, and 40 to 75 cents for the green bell. This is one item I seldom buy at Aldi. Cost, $1.25.
- Garlic: I look for a price of about $2.99 a pound, or about 54 cents a head. Check the pricing of the bulk per pound as opposed to the packaged. I never really find it on sale, but I use so much, I pay attention and buy a bit more when I see the price is lower. Cost 5 cents.
- Olive Oil: I have a little strategy for buying olive oil – using coupons and sales to lower the price, so click on the link. I also look for new brands and stock up – heavy competition means that when a new brand comes to the store, it is often at a fantastic price for a few weeks, then settles in at around the same price as the others. I think it’s important to use olive oil as opposed to many others – the health benefits outweigh a bit more extra cost, and it can be had at a very reasonable price. I also like the fact that Olive oil contains no hidden trans fats like Canola or Vegetable oil. Cost for this recipe: 16 cents.
- Cornstarch: This is one of those baking items best bought around the winter holidays when baking items are at their least expensive and coupons are available. Cost for a tablespoon: about a penny.
- Vinegar: I pick up a jug of white vinegar around Easter – often with a coupon, and often on an unadvertised sale. It keeps forever and is dirt cheap. The better vinegars are often on sale at Easter, and on sale with coupons sporadically through the summer. Many can be picked up at no cost or for just pennies. Stock up because great sales other times of the year are much less likely and vinegar is a component of so many recipes. Cost nominal.