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 source of plant-based protein 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! (It can also be cooked in the oven if you don't have an air fryer.)
Why You Will Love This Recipe
- Super quick and easy recipe – 2 minutes prep and 10 minutes cooking time. Air frying cooks the tofu all over and avoids the need to stand over the frying pan turning the tofu cubes onto each side to brown them all individually;
- Healthy and tasty too – super healthy ingredients but a really great texture and tastes divine with a sprinkling of tamari or a tasty dipping sauce;
- Plant-based goodness – vegan and gluten-free (of course!);
- Pantry ingredients that you can always keep on hand – tofu has a long shelf-life in the fridge so it is a great vegan standby. You can make it whenever you need a quick protein snack or need to add a protein element to a meal.
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!
This dish is a dream for those busy days when you walk into the kitchen at supper time trying to think on-the-spot of something quick and nutritious to cook for your family. The tofu takes a minute or two to prepare and then just pop it into the air fryer while you chop and stir-fry some vegetables and boil some noodles to go with it. Dinner on the table in 15-20 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-frying, stir-frying, baking, or air-frying 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 dusting of flour and baked to give crispy little tofu 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 too. 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 with a consistency like the Italian dessert, panna cotta. It is the type of tofu that you find chopped into little cubes in miso soup. It doesn’t require cooking and when my children were babies, 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 dish 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.
People sometimes have concerns that tofu causes breast cancer. However, this is absolutely not the case. The belief stems from a misunderstanding of plant estrogens in tofu and flawed research from the 1990s that is still often mentioned in the media despite having been disproved many times. In fact, 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 to help ensure that you're getting the omega-3s you need. (You can also nibble on walnuts and sprinkle flax or seaweed on your food!)
- Firm or Extra-Firm Tofu - silken or soft tofu is too soft and will not hold together, medium tofu will not get crispy enough. Press the tofu if you want it to be more chewy (see notes below for how to press tofu).
- 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. If you do not have potato starch, any other gluten-free starch will work. Tapioca starch, arrowroot or cornstarch all work well but I find potato starch gives the best results.
- Chia seeds – as well as packing in the nutrients, these tiny seeds also like to suck up all the liquid from the tofu, helping to make the outside extra crispy.
- Oil – adding a little oil to the tofu helps with the browning and to stick the seeds and flavours to the tofu. You can use any oil for this purpose but I like to use olive oil for mediterranean type dishes, and grapeseed or coconut oil for Asian dishes. Sesame oil tastes good with tofu but I wouldn't cook with it as it has a low smoke point so is better for drizzling after cooking.
- Garlic powder or granules, salt and pepper – for flavour! You could add whatever other flavourings you like as well. Onion powder would be good, as would seaweed sprinkles or, for a different flavour, some curry powder.
Please see the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post for full list of ingredients and their quantities.
- Press the tofu (optional – for a more chewy texture instead of the softer creamy texture if left unpressed);
- Cut it into cubes about 1cm square;
- Gently mix in a small bowl with the other ingredients;
- Air fry at 200°C for 10 minutes, turning half way (or bake in the oven at 200°C for 10-20 minutes, until browned).
This is a summary only. Please see the printable recipe card at the bottom of this page for full instructions.
- 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 press tofu.
How To Press Tofu
Tofu often needs to be pressed before you use it to remove the excess moisture so that it gets a firmer texture (not silken tofu). I usually press tofu if it is swimming in a lot of liquid but I find some brands (like Tofoo and Biona) don’t need to be pressed as they are quite dense compared to other brands so seem 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 the tofu block from the liquid in the packet, you can put it on a plate lined with a few pieces of folded up clean kitchen towel, then put a plate and a heavy object 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 paper towels!
I find it a little annoying so prefer the simple mess-free option of using the Tofuture 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. (paid 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 added to a stir fry or with noodles, added to salads, included within a buddha bowl, or even as a pre-dinner canapé with some vegan kimchi or a sprinkling of tamari (or gluten-free soy sauce)or, if you want to go to a tiny bit more effort, a spicy zhoug sauce or the chilli dipping sauce in my Vietnamese rainbow pancakes recipe. You could also add it to tacos for extra kid-friendly protein or kids also love to dip these tofu pieces into tomato ketchup or barbecue sauce.
- 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!
- Instead of potato starch, tapioca starch, corn starch or arrowroot powder 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.
- Add flavour by sprinkling on some dried seaweed or red pepper flakes to the tofu or sprinkle on some tamari (or gluten-free soy sauce or liquid aminos). Or you could add more flavour by using marinated tofu or serving with a strongly flavoured sauce like kimchi sauce, satay (peanut sauce), or vegan mayonnaise mixed with sriracha sauce (yum!).
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 it 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.
Crispy Air Fryer Tofu FAQs
If you don’t have an air fryer, you can make this crispy chia tofu in a regular convection oven instead. Place the prepared tofu cubes onto a baking tray that has been lined with baking paper and bake in an oven at 200°C for about 20 minutes. Alternatively, you could sauté the tofu cubes in hot oil in a frying pan, making sure to brown each side of the cubes
No, it is totally optional. Pressing the tofu gives a firmer texture but it is also delicious being crispy on the outside and softer on the inside. Also, some brands of tofu do not need to be pressed, like Tofoo and Biona.
I get it. Chia seeds are expensive and may not be a staple in everyone’s pantry. They add a lovely crunch and nutrition to this dish but they are not essential. You could just leave them out completely or you could swap them for any other small seeds like sesame seeds.
📖 Recipe 📖
Crispy Air Fried Tofu with Chia Seeds
- 400 g tofu (firm or extra-firm)
- 2 tablespoon potato starch, (or arrowroot powder, tapioca starch or cornstarch)
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds, (or sesame seeds)
- ½ teaspoon garlic granules, (or garlic powder)
- ¼ teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon oil, (olive oil, grapeseed oil, canola 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 a few slices 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 (or powder) 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 tablespoon potato starch, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, ½ teaspoon garlic granules, ¼ teaspoon Himalayan pink salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon 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 at 200°C/400°F. 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.
Did you make this recipe? Please leave a ⭐ star rating ⭐ on the recipe card!
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