This crispy tofu recipe is so simple and quick but so unbelievably tasty that it might just revolutionize your life! As a fantastically healthy and versatile plant-based protein source and taking only 10 minutes to make (with literally a minute prep time!), you’ll find yourself frequently making this crispy air fried tofu all the time! Use it in stir-fries and noodles or to add some protein to your salads or even as a pre-dinner canapé with a dipping sauce!
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My family absolutely adore this dish. In fact, I didn’t even manage to take the photographs of it before my youngest snuck into the kitchen and popped one of the tofu cubes into her mouth, dripping tamari all over my carefully prepared plate!
I’ve been particularly busy recently so mealtimes have been a bit of a rushed affair, with me often walking into the kitchen at supper time and trying to think on-the-spot of something quick and nutritious to cook. That’s where this dish really comes into its own. The tofu takes a minute or two to chop and mix with the other ingredients (and I always keep a packet or two of tofu in the fridge) and then I pop it into the air fryer while I chop and stir-fry some vegetables and noodles to go with it. Dinner on the table in 10-15 minutes – now that’s faster than a takeaway and infinitely healthier!
What is Tofu?
Tofu is made from soy bean curd (soy milk basically) that is pressed into blocks so it counts as one of your bean portions. It comes in varying degrees of hard or softness each with their own uses. Once you start exploring the uses for tofu, you will find it is incredibly versatile and so useful to keep in your kitchen! The only thing to remember is that it is really quite bland so you need to add flavour. Do this either by marinating before cooking it, or adding a flavourful coating or sauce to your tofu.
Medium, Firm and Extra Firm Tofu
I have grouped these together as they are quite similar but in varying degrees of firmness. They are totally different to silken tofu and you will find them in a different section of the supermarket as well! These types of tofu are usually found vacuum-packed in liquid in plastic containers in the refrigerated area of the supermarket. Often people press this type of tofu to reduce the water content (from sitting in liquid in the packaging) and give it a more chewy texture (see below for how to press tofu). These types of tofu are excellent for pan-fried, stir-fried, baked, or air-fried in the following types of dishes:
- stir-fries and curries;
- fried or baked in slices (smoked tofu is an absolute favourite of mine done like this!);
- coated with a batter or flour and baked to give crispy little nuggets like in this recipe;
- used instead of meat in cosy pies like this creamy tofu pot pie recipe.
The silken variety is quite different to the other types and used in different ways to the other types. It is usually stored in shelf-stable Tetra-Pak packaging so it is great to always have some stored in the cupboard for when you need it. Silken tofu is soft and almost blamange-like in consistency. It is the type that you find chopped into little cubes in miso soup. It doesn’t require cooking and when my children were weaning babies and toddlers, they often just ate it cold straight from the packet! I personally wouldn’t like that as it’s very bland in flavour but they loved it, perhaps because it was so soft and cold on their sore gums. Uses for this variety:
- chopped into small cubes to put on top of sushi bowls or noodles (nothing that requires too much stirring as it will just fall apart!);
- tiny cubes stirred into miso soup;
- whizzed up into pasta sauces and soups (great if your kids don’t like the texture but you want them to have the health benefits and protein content!);
- fried with onions and garlic and turmeric and mashed to a scrambled egg consistency for an amazing scrambled tofu breakfast!
- unlike the other types of tofu, silken tofu is also often used for sweet treats as well. It does a good job of taking the place of creams and cheeses to make vegan cheesecakes, tarts and other sweet delights!
This crispy air fried tofu with chia seeds is one of those brilliant pairings of healthy ingredients with a healthy cooking style to make tasty, nutritious food. The tofu and chia seeds are really the nutritional stars of the show here and, for those who are interested, I will briefly explain why below.
Tofu is a fantastic nutrient-rich source of protein for those on a vegan diet. Not only does it contain all 9 essential amino acids (protein), it’s also low in calories and a great source of other nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, B vitamins, and vitamin D.
After some concerning research back in the 1990s that has since been disproved many times, people often still have a residual fear that tofu might cause breast cancer. The misconception was based around a misunderstanding of plant estrogens in tofu and tests on rodents that have a different reaction to humans. In fact, the exact opposite has been found to be the case and numerous studies have shown the benefits of tofu consumption on human health, such as:
- easing the discomforting side effects of the menopause (particularly hot flushes);
- reducing LDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure (and in turn reducing heart disease risk);
- protecting against certain types of cancers, slowing their progression, and preventing recurrence;
- protecting against osteoporosis;
These tiny little seeds pack a punch nutritionally! Chia seeds are a fantastic source of omega-3 essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. For vegans or those on a plant-based diet, who are not eating oily fish, you need to consciously add plant-based sources of omega-3 into your diet to ensure you're getting enough. The best plant-based sources of omega-3 fats are chia seeds, flax seeds, seaweed and walnuts. So this recipe is a great way to add these amazing little seeds into your diet and ensure you're getting the omega-3s you need. (Also try to nibble on walnuts and sprinkle flax or seaweed on your food!)
- Firm or Extra-Firm Tofu (silken tofu is too soft and will not hold together, medium tofu will not get crispy enough)
- Potato starch – although a refined flour, it is not much for this recipe and it really does help to give a light crispy outside to the tofu pieces.
- Chia seeds – these tiny seeds just love to suck up all the liquid from the tofu, helping to make the outside extra crispy.
- Olive oil – this helps with the browning and to stick the seeds and flavours to the tofu.
- Garlic granules, salt and pepper – for flavour!
- Press the tofu (optional – for a more chewy texture as opposed to a softer almost liquidy texture if left unpressed);
- Cut it into cubes;
- Gently mix with the other ingredients;
- Air fry @ 200°C for 10 minutes, turning half way (or bake in the oven @200°C for 10-20 minutes, until browned).
- Remember to use firm or extra firm tofu not silken tofu!
- Try to cut the tofu into even sized cubes so that they all cook evenly.
- Use light fingers to gently toss the tofu cubes into the potato starch so that it is well covered but not broken up into smaller bits.
- You may want to press your tofu for a firmer texture – see below for how to do this.
How to press tofu
Tofu often needs to be pressed before you use it so that it gets a firmer texture (not silken tofu). I usually press the tofu that is swimming in a lot of liquid but I find the Tofoo brand doesn’t need to be pressed as it is quite dense compared to other brands so seems to retain less liquid. For this particular recipe, I often don’t press it at all because I quite like the crispy outside with a softer inside, but if that texture grosses you out, then follow these steps to press your tofu first!
Once you've drained it from the liquid in the packet, you can put it on a plate lined with a few pieces of folded up kitchen towel, then put a plate and something heavy on top of it (like a small cast iron pan or a few tins of beans) and leave it for a little while. Occasionally drain the liquid off the plate and perhaps change to fresh kitchen towel if it is really wet. This is not a difficult process but takes a little patience dealing with the soggy kitchen towel!
I find it a little annoying so prefer the simple mess-free option of using this tofu press which is fantastic because you literally just add the tofu into it, put the lid on and then pour off the liquid out of the bottom. (Affiliate link)
This crispy air fried tofu is so versatile, it can go with so many things! I often find myself quickly making this to add a protein portion to whatever else I am serving. It’s fantastic with stir-fries and noodles, added to salads, included within a buddha bowl, or even as a pre-dinner canapé with some kimchi or tamari or, if you want to go to a tiny bit more effort, a chilli dipping sauce like the one in my Vietnamese rainbow pancakes.
- If you don’t have chia seeds, you could substitute them with sesame seeds but they won’t have the same effect of soaking up any liquid and making the outside super crispy. It would be yummy though!
- You could also add some sprinkled little pieces of dried seaweed.
- Instead of potato starch, tapioca or arrowroot would do just as good a job.
- For a healthier option, I’m sure you could use a wholegrain flour like brown rice flour or millet flour instead but it just won’t have that super light tempura-like crispy exterior.
Making Ahead and Leftovers
If you make this crispy air fried tofu ahead, just slightly under-cook it and then when it’s time to serve, quickly re-heat in the air fryer for a few minutes so that it’s browned and crispy. It can be stored in a covered container in the fridge for a couple of days and then crisped up in the air fryer for a couple of minutes when you want to eat it.
I can’t imagine you will have any leftovers as these are just so moorish that you can’t stop picking at them! However, if you do have any leftovers, re-heat them with a quick blast in the air fryer and add to stir-fries or salads or whatever you like to re-utilise this crispy tofu.
Recipe Card 📖
Crispy Air Fried Tofu with Chia Seeds
- 400 g tofu (firm or extra-firm)
- 2 tbsp potato starch (or arrowroot or tapioca starch)
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- ½ tsp garlic granules
- ¼ tsp Himalayan pink salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Pre-heat the air-fryer (or oven) to 200°C / 400°F.
- Drain the tofu from the liquid in the packet and dab dry with kitchen towel. Press the tofu if you’d like a more chewy texture. (See notes below for further information on pressing tofu).400 g tofu (firm or extra-firm)
- Chop the tofu into small cubes (I like to slice the block of tofu in half horizontally, then in both directions on the top).
- In a large bowl, carefully toss the tofu cubes with the potato starch to make sure each piece is coated. Then add the chia seeds, garlic granules and salt and pepper and toss again. (Don’t worry if it doesn’t all stick – the oil will do that job). Finally add the oil and mix it all together so that each piece is evenly covered with the chia seed mixture.2 tbsp potato starch, 1 tbsp chia seeds, ½ tsp garlic granules, ¼ tsp Himalayan pink salt, ¼ tsp black pepper, 1 tbsp olive oil
- Air fryer instructions: Pour the tofu pieces into the air fryer basket, preferably in a single layer, and air fry for 10 minutes at 200°C, turning half way to ensure even browning.
- Oven instructions: Lay the tofu pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with baking paper, and pop in the oven. Depending on your oven, they will take around 15-20 minutes but just keep an eye on them and take them out whenever they are browned to your liking. Turn them over half way through cooking to ensure even browning.
- Use firm or extra-firm tofu for this recipe, not silken tofu.
- If you prefer the tofu to be chewy rather than meltingly soft, then press the tofu first. This involves putting the drained tofu on a plate lined with a few pieces of folded up kitchen towel, then put a plate and something heavy on top of it (like a small cast iron pan or a few tins of beans). Leave for half an hour or so then pour out the liquid off the plate. This recipe doesn’t need any more than this short simple pressing. Alternatively, you can use a tofu press for this!
- To re-heat, just put back in the air-fryer or oven for a few minutes to crisp up again.
If you like this recipe, you may like these other delicious vegan and gluten-free recipes too:
I’d love to know how you get on with this recipe. Let me know what you think in the comments section below and please give it a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ star rating too! Thank you!