Italian Style Air Fried Tofu is the perfect filling for a delicious vegan wrap. The air fryer makes the tofu chewy and slightly crispy, with no added oil.
I’ve had an air fryer for well over a year and even started a Facebook group, FatFree Vegan Air Fryers, to share cooking ideas. I’ve posted several air fryer recipes, but I’ve never taken the opportunity to write about the air fryer in depth, to review the different air fryers, describe how they work, give formulas for converting “regular” recipes for the air fryer, etc.
And there’s a reason for that:
I don’t think air fryers are really necessary. And if you don’t have one, you can still make this air fried tofu because I’ve included oven directions at the end of the recipe.
Let me back up a bit and say that an air fryer is basically a small, super-charged convection oven; a fan circulates heat through the perforated basket that the food sits in, browning it in all sides. I have two appliances which have air frying features: A small Phillips Viva (a model that has been discontinued) and a large Breville Smart Oven Air, which is a toaster oven on steroids with an air frying setting and basket. Both of these fryers are considered top of the line among air fryers and have the price tags to prove it. (I bought them both myself, and have no affiliation with either company.)
Let me also qualify my statement that they aren’t necessary by confessing that I mostly use mine for only two foods: potatoes and tofu. Every now and then I make burgers and air fry them in the Breville, but I use my Phillips mostly to make “French fries” and tofu. So I’m hardly an expert on air frying, though that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion.
There are a few advantages to air frying instead of baking. Before I get to them, I want to say something controversial: I don’t consider the Breville Smart Oven Air (BSOA) a real air fryer. Now, I love the thing and use it daily for baking and reheating (it will hold a full-sized pan of lasagna, I kid you not), but as an air fryer it is huge but lackluster. I consider the air frying setting a gimmick, a very successful one by the number of people who have bought it. It works okay, but most of the following advantages of air fryers do not apply to it.
Air Fryers are Fast
I find that my Phillips air fryer cooks food in about half the time that it would take in the oven. The BSOA takes a little more time but normally less than an conventional oven (if you increase the heat.)
Air Fryers Cook at a Lower Temperature
Something about having hot air whipping around at hurricane speeds means that you don’t have to use as high a temperature as oven cooking. I reduce the temperature of a conventional recipe by as much as 70 degrees F when I make it in an air fryer.
Note: This does not apply to the BSOA. I find that everything needs to be cooked at much higher temperatures with the Breville’s air frying setting. For instance, I make thin French fries with the Phillips at 360F but have to turn the BSOA up to 425F.
Air Fried Food Does Not Need To Be Turned as Often
Because air is circulating through the mesh basket, food doesn’t have to be turned as often and is less likely to stick badly. But I find that I do need to loosen and rearrange the food at least once halfway through cooking so that it cooks evenly. I do this with a thin spatula; even though instructions will often say to “shake the basket,” often food is too stuck to really shake loose.
All in all, I think air fryers have some benefits, especially in terms of energy efficiency and time savings. But there are a few downsides:
- They’re one-use appliances that take up space in the kitchen.
- The better ones can be expensive.
- The smallest ones are often too small, unless you are cooking for one. The Phillips I have, for instance, will hold only one burger unless I use the rack I purchased separately, for an extra $30. Then it holds two burgers. (Advice: Buy the biggest one you can afford.)
- The cheaper ones often have non-stick coatings that flake off. Read the reviews on Amazon before you buy.
- If you avoid non-stick coatings, it can be difficult to find a model without them (the Phillips’ basket is metal but the interior where the food drips is non-stick.)
- Unless you’re used to fat-free food, you won’t find air-fried food much like fried food. A lot of buyers have felt disappointed that the results didn’t match the hype. And yes, you can cook without any oil in an air fryer, despite what the user manual states, though I’m sure that using a little oil would give the food a more realistic fried texture.
- While the Phillips is easy to clean because you can soak the basket in the main compartment, the Breville’s air fryer basket may be too big to fit flat in the kitchen sink, so it’s hard to soak. It also is not meant for cooking food that drips because of the heating element at the bottom. Food can easily drip through the grill and burn onto the bottom.
If you’d like to buy an air fryer, I’m not trying to dissuade you, but I think it’s important to know these things going in.
There is one thing that the air fryer does very well, and it alone is almost enough reason to buy one:
The air fryer does something magical to tofu. It crisps the edges and makes it firmer and chewier, all without you having to freeze it or press it with fancy tofu presses. It’s absolutely addictive, and it’s oil-free.
I often make air fried tofu for stir-fries by marinating it in a mixture of soy sauce and sriracha, soy sauce and chili garlic sauce, soy sauce and a dash of sesame oil and garlic. The only essential is the soy sauce. I find tofu unappealingly bland if it’s not salted, and soy sauce adds the salt as well as the umami flavor.
What I do not add is starch. I tried just once adding starch to my tofu, and it was nowhere near as good as it is “naked.” It left a powdery residue in my mouth that I wish I could forget.
Last week I was trying to pull a last-minute lunch together from limited ingredients–not enough of anything to make a big salad but just enough salad vegetables to stuff a couple of wraps. I was tired of hummus and wanting something different, so I quickly marinated some tofu in Italian seasonings while the air fryer was preheating. Italian style air fried tofu was born.
I posted the photo of that lunch on Instagram, and so many people wanted the recipe that I knew I’d have to make it again and keep track of the amounts I used of each ingredient so that I could post it here. That was no hardship! I loved it so much that I’ve had it four times in the past week, and I hope you’ll love it, too.
Air Fried Tofu Italian Style
- 8 ounces extra-firm tofu
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari gluten-free, if necessary
- 1 tablespoon aquafaba or broth (see notes)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon granulated onion
- black pepper to taste
- Drain the tofu and cut it into three slices lengthwise. Put down a double layer of tea towels or paper towels, place the tofu slices on top, and cover with more towels. Place your hands over the tofu slices and press down, gently increasing pressure, to press enough water out that the towels are noticeably wet. (You can also use a tofu press for this, of course.)
- Return the tofu to the cutting board and cut each piece into about 10 cubes (one cut down the length and then 5 across works well.) Place the tofu in a large ziplock bag or bowl.
- Mix the remaining ingredients well. Pour over the tofu and gently turn the bag or stir the tofu until all sides are coated. Let it marinate at least 10 minutes--the longer you marinate it, the more flavorful it will be.
- Preheat your air fryer at 390-400F for about 3 minutes. Place the tofu in a single layer in the basket (leaving any marinade behind) and immediately reduce the temperature to around 350F. Air fry for 6 minutes. Use a thin, flexible spatula to loosen the tofu and turn it. Return it to the air fryer and begin checking at 4 minutes to see if it is golden overall and slightly darker at the edges but not overcooked or it will be tough.
- Use any way you like--my preference is in wraps with plenty of veggies and balsamic vinaigrette--but it's also good in pasta.
Nutritional info is approximate.
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Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions that I didn’t answer about air frying.
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Rhonda @ Change In SecondsMarch 19, 2018 at 8:46 am
Wow looks delicious. Will try the recipe this week!
Carol1oneMarch 19, 2018 at 10:30 am
Thank you, Susan! I just got my air fryer (Philips Avance XL) two days ago. (I love my Breville Smart Oven and considered the Breville Air, so I appreciated your comments.) This tofu will go on our salads tonight. When you say you would only use it for potatoes and tofu, it makes me so excited to try the tofu! lol (I wish I had read somewhere about broccoli: the florets released their little balls early, which burned and flew in and around my air fryer fans for days. They are still blowing out as broccoli dust. This is my helpful hint for others.)
Susan VoisinMarch 19, 2018 at 11:35 am
That’s a great tip! I didn’t care for the way broccoli tasted in the air fryer, but I’m glad I didn’t have that experience. I almost put down “spices and stuff blow out the back” as one of the downsides. I may have to add it!
I also had a regular Smart Oven before the Air, and my impression is that the air fryer setting on the Air isn’t any stronger than the convection fan in the regular Smart Oven. That’s why I feel it’s a gimmick. I do like to use it for making large batches of fries or tofu, but I don’t like it for anything “drippy” that can drip all over the heating element and bottom of the oven.
Carol1oneMarch 19, 2018 at 1:16 pm
Good to know…thanks! I wondered if the oregano and basil in this recipe might dry and blow off in the fans, too? Not that it’s the end of the world, but helpful to know. My kale chips (I used collard greens) actually flew out of the basket while cooking and I found half of them *under* the basket! I ate them…and have been finding little green specks blown onto the kitchen counter and elsewhere.
Susan VoisinMarch 19, 2018 at 2:46 pm
I didn’t find any “herb residue” after cooking this, like I do when I sprinkle fries with seasoned salt. You can kind of see how much seasoning is still on the tofu in the photos. I had a bad experience with kale chips too, flying up into the heating element and burning. Some people use a piece of metal mesh to hold them down.
MarloMarch 19, 2018 at 11:50 pm
I’m in position where a countertop oven the size of the Breville would be an asset, and have been considering upgrading from my Cuisinart air fryer toaster oven because if the size. But I too wonder about the gimmick nature of it all. There’s no doubt it cooks much faster, which we like. Do you think the extra expense is worth it between the two Breville models?
Susan VoisinMarch 20, 2018 at 12:30 am
I really like the size of the Breville Air; it’s much bigger than my last Smart Oven, and for that alone I think it’s worth the price. (I have an ancient, unreliable wall oven, so the Breville is my primary oven.) One downside is that it seems to take longer to toast bread, but overall I think it’s worth it if you need a really big countertop oven.
JanelMarch 19, 2018 at 11:04 am
Thanks so much for all this info! Bought my Instant Pot in part based on your reviews, and appreciate hearing that I can probably live without an air fryer … for now, at least. 🙂 We do love our tofu around here, so I guess we’ll see. I’m excited to try this Italian-flavored version!
Christina CallaghanMarch 19, 2018 at 11:33 am
Such a delicious and easy recipe Susan. I have a wonderful tofu press so its even easier. Thanks for all the extra information, you answered a lot of questions I had on the air fryer, which I really don’t want. I’ve used the instant pot exactly once but maybe once the weather gets hot I’ll be more motivated! I know you have a lot of recipes using it.
Susan VoisinMarch 19, 2018 at 11:40 am
I love the Instant Pot for soups, stews, and beans, but I’m not one of those people who want to cook everything in it. It really speeds up cooking dried beans, but for a lot of other things, it isn’t any faster than the stovetop. The only other benefit is being about to set it and do other things without hovering over the stove. I hope you’ll give it another try with one of my IP recipes (see the link at the bottom of every page.) I really recommend any of the split pea or lentil soups.
Rina WojcikMarch 19, 2018 at 1:32 pm
This recipe looks awesome and I’ll definitely try it. But I have a question about the Air Fryer. How much heat does it put off into the kitchen when you are cooking something at 400 degrees?
Susan VoisinMarch 19, 2018 at 2:48 pm
Most of the heat is blown out the back of the air fryer (along with some spices). Because of that (and because you use a lower heat setting usually) it doesn’t feel like it heats the kitchen up as much as an oven or toaster oven. (The Breville gets very hot on top and steam actually comes out of the front when air frying something wet–very alarming the first time you see it.)
Cheri VarvilMarch 19, 2018 at 4:08 pm
Thanks for posting this. I haven’t tried this with tofu, but I do make french “fries” by putting my cooling racks for cookies in a large cookie sheet and baking potato pieces on this, and also have the red copper “fry” basket for the oven. My oven has a convection setting so I use that. I’m thinking this might give similar results to the air fryer?
KathyDMarch 19, 2018 at 4:37 pm
Your comments on the pros and cons of air fryers in general and the Breville in particular are very helpful. Thanks for giving us an honest opinion.
CydMarch 19, 2018 at 5:22 pm
Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. I do not have one more inch of space in my kitchen for another small appliance and felt that I was missing out not having an air fryer. You have solved that problem! One question. You mentioned convection. I do have a convection setting in my oven. Do you know if that would come closer to producing the crisp edges you describe vs. a regular oven setting? I have never thought to use that setting for tofu.I am looking forward to making this recipe.
Susan VoisinMarch 19, 2018 at 5:27 pm
I think that the convection setting in your oven plus one of those baskets you can buy on Amazon would come very close to mimicking an air fryer. I haven’t bought one myself, but I’ve seen other people post photos of their oven-frying baskets, and they look similar to what comes with the Breville. They allow the air to circulate more freely than a baking sheet would.
LisaMarch 19, 2018 at 6:32 pm
I have never ever left a comment on a recipe before. As soon as I received this recipe in my inbox I knew I was going to give it a go. I followed the recipe perfectly. I put the marinade in a plastic baggie and threw the tofu in. Gave it a good few shakes and placed the tofu on a tray lined with parchment paper. Popped the tofu in the oven, turned it after 10 minutes and it turned out amazing! Crispy on the outside and she we on the inside! Thank you so much for this delicious recipe!
MariaMarch 19, 2018 at 10:37 pm
Susan, I love this post! Thanks for an honest assessment of the latest kitchen gadget. I really appreciate the honesty. It confirms my suspicion that it isn’t worth my while in a small kitchen to get one, though this tofu looks great! I will definitely try it in the oven. (And I had to laugh about the “fancy tofu presses”–mine is a saucer filled with shells and stones from the beach–it works great! lol Looking forward to trying this in my old fashioned oven. xo
Cheryl MaeJuly 29, 2019 at 5:05 am
I thought so, too, until I actually used one. My granddaughter ‘s. I baked perfect oil free pita chips from pita bread and I was sold. I live in Hawaii so don’t use my oven most of the time due to the heat. This thing cooks cooler and fast!
Paulette GrimsboMarch 20, 2018 at 9:55 am
Susan, I found a source for your model of Phillips. Would you re-buy it if you didn’t have one. We love tofu dishes so just wanted your input.
Susan VoisinMarch 20, 2018 at 11:22 am
I would actually not buy that one but get a bigger one, unless you only want to do small amounts of tofu or potatoes. I love the Phillips brand, and would get one of their larger models.
BethMarch 20, 2018 at 10:54 am
I have a double wall oven (regular Oven size) that are also convection. What temperature for this? Obviously it’s different than an air fryer.
Susan VoisinMarch 20, 2018 at 11:20 am
I would try 400F.
PatMarch 21, 2018 at 12:41 pm
Which Phillips air fryer do you have? I looked at amazon and they are $200+. Is that what you paid for yours?
Susan VoisinMarch 21, 2018 at 12:58 pm
Mine was originally $179 but I got it for $139 on a Black Friday deal. The larger ones are even more expensive. There are cheaper brands like GoWise that people like, and if you don’t want to pay a lot without knowing if you’re going to use it, you might start with one of them.
Scott BurgettMarch 21, 2018 at 4:27 pm
Thanks for the comments about the air-fryer! It seems like a convenience, but not a necessity. Considering I live in a small one bedroom apartment, kitchen counter space is limited and definitely doesn’t need another appliance [that goes for my shelving too :)].
kate s.March 22, 2018 at 12:32 pm
Thank you so much for this review! I’ve definitely been feeling the FOMO with the air fryer, but I’ve been having the exact doubts you mentioned. I’ll sit tight with my Instantpot and my Vitamix for now. And I’ll still for sure be making this tofu!!!
AngelaMarch 24, 2018 at 9:13 pm
This looks fabulous Susan – thank you 🙂 can’t wait to try it.
I just have a little question and would so value your opinion. I like tofu but I don’t use it as often as I should. Mary McDougall says that it’s high in fat so beware….doesn’t look that high in fat to me. I have trouble with beans because they upset my gut quite badly so my options are few. I would be grateful to know your thoughts on this.
JillApril 19, 2018 at 1:19 am
Tofu many times more calorie dense than whole beans and grains, so she’s right. There’s no requirement to use tofu in a plant based diet. It’s strictly a personal choice.
TraceyMarch 25, 2018 at 6:39 am
Aside from the tofu, what else is in your wrap? Looks delicious!
Marilyn WebbMarch 25, 2018 at 2:48 pm
If you have a convection oven, can that be used in place of the air fryer? I believe air fryers are mini-convection ovens, right? thanks!
PollySMarch 25, 2018 at 9:44 pm
I made this tonight and it was a hit! My son and husband love tofu, so I knew they would like it. My daughter and I, not so much. We all enjoyed it a lot. The flavors are great. I did however, double the marinade because I didn’t have More than 10 minutes to soak.
I served with rice pilaf, by the way.
Thanks for all your hard work!
MarciaMarch 26, 2018 at 9:44 am
What a timely post! I bought a 5.3 Power Air Fryer XL yesterday! I’ve been wanting to try one forever, and a 30% off coupon pushed me over the edge. My question is: I’m vegan, my spouse is not. If I cook his meat in the air fryer will it still be safe for my plant-based foods? I don’t want to contaminate it! And, yes, I’m in this relationship forever…lol!!!
We live in the desert where outside temps get up to 130* in the “summer”, and this is part of what sold me on the air fryer…it will not heat up the house.
I’ve got a fresh pack of tofu…going to make this recipe my “virgin voyage” into air frying.
Thanks for such a great blog!
Susan VoisinMarch 26, 2018 at 9:59 am
Hi Marcia. What good timing! I hope you enjoy the tofu recipes. I’m afraid whether or not your air fryer is “contaminated” after cooking meat is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. You can clean the rack and basket well after each use, but because the hot air circulates throughout the machine, I would think it’d be impossible to get every molecule of animal fat out of it. Some vegans can live with that, while others don’t even want to use pans that meat has been cooked in. I hope you can figure out a compromise that you and your spouse can live with! 😀
KatApril 1, 2018 at 1:07 pm
I cooked it as written and loved it. Then,I replaced the aquafaba with a really good balsamic vinegar. That was very good and added another layer of flavor.
wernerApril 1, 2018 at 6:45 pm
TY for this post, since air fryer buzz seems to be rampant. Will stick with Vitamix and InstantPot investments for now. After reading your post, I did get the idea to raise up my marinated tofu squares on a cookie rack placed on top of my parchment-lined baking sheet. This helped hot air bake them on all sides, and they were crispier!
KateApril 9, 2018 at 6:22 am
Hi, a question I’ve had for years – I often see soy sauce or tamari in non-Asian recipes. Do they really use tamari in Italy or Spain or Mexico?”
Susan VoisinApril 9, 2018 at 8:43 am
Traditionally, soy sauce wouldn’t be an ingredient in any of those countries’ cuisines, but I’m sure with globalization, it’s available there today. To me, it doesn’t matter if a particular country uses a particular ingredient; what matters is if in vegan cooking, that ingredient provides a depth of flavor that might otherwise be lacking. This is particularly important when cooking tofu, which doesn’t have any flavor of its own and which itself isn’t an ingredient used in those countries’ traditional recipes, but we use it to replace meat or cheese. In the same way, we use soy sauce and other ingredients like nutritional yeast to replace umami flavors that in non-vegan cooking come from meat, dairy, and eggs.
KimApril 16, 2018 at 8:32 pm
Made this tonight and loved it! My husband the reluctant tofu eater also said, “wow! This is really great! I didn’t think I would like the tofu, but I do!” We had it with polenta and braised root veggies.
Ana VeganApril 25, 2018 at 8:23 pm
Can’t wait to try this out for my husband. He must love it much. Thanks.
Terri EdwardsMay 1, 2018 at 5:42 pm
My sister has told me a number of times that I need to try this recipe. It’s next on my ‘Recipes to Try’ list. Can’t wait, because your pictures look amazing!
Blessings & Kale,
MalindaMay 17, 2018 at 10:59 pm
Hi Susan! I’m a longtime reader of your blog, but for some reason this recipe prompted me to comment– it sounds DELISH! 🙂 When I first saw it, I was worried that I would need an air fryer to make it, but I appreciate that you gave instructions on how to make it in an oven, too. The comments from other posters also give some good tips! I will probably not purchase an air fryer anytime soon, because I’m currently in a one-bedroom apartment with a tiny kitchen and hardly any storage space. (I am considering a GF grill, though, after seeing your barbecue tofu recipe a little while ago! Also sounds yummy! Plus it would be great for grilling veggies and veggie burgers, and maybe paninis and other goodies.) I am trying to transition to vegan (I want to go whole food, plant based), but my fiance is VERY resistant to the idea. If you have any tips they would be very welcome. I also figure that if I make dishes that are tasty enough, I might be able to get him to go *mostly* plant-based. He already loves my vegan veggie soup and split pea soup! 🙂
DrewJune 2, 2018 at 6:40 pm
Thanks for your recipe; it’s the first thing I’ve made with my new airfryer. It turned out exceptionally well!!! Delicious flavours and textures. I left them in c.8mims longer in total, then added them to a wrap with some vegan mayo and fresh corriander leaves. Superb!!!
Beverly K. SaffmondJune 30, 2018 at 5:18 pm
Had it for about 6 months now, using it frequently. I love this fryer! Just made salmon in it tonight and it was so easy, 10 minutes to cook and it was delicious!
Beverly K. Saffmond
RCamachoJuly 14, 2018 at 7:19 pm
This looks good. Thanks for the awesome recipe. Can’t wait to try it out and have a bite at it. 🙂
LynnAugust 19, 2018 at 6:44 pm
Mmmm What a quick, easy recipe! Even though my air fryer is just a small one so I had to cook it in two batches, it turned out beautifully and tastes delicious! This one is a keeper! Thank you!
Beth BurnettSeptember 2, 2018 at 10:06 am
My first time ever trying tofu thanks to this recipe. It was delicious, but mine did not come out crispy and gorgeous like yours, despite cooking it longer. Wonder if I should have done two smaller batches as mine were kind of crammed into my small fryer. It was good enough that I will try again, though. Thank you!
Susan VoisinSeptember 2, 2018 at 10:22 am
Yes, spreading it out could help. Also, all Air Fryers are different, so you may need to cook it longer or at a higher temp than I did. I’m glad you liked it, though. 😀
Deborah BillsNovember 19, 2018 at 5:24 am
When I’m making tofu, mushrooms, burgers and the like in my basket air fryer, I add 4 ice cubes to the basket when I loosen the food (halfway through cooking). It makes a big difference in the final product. Your tofu looks delicious. I can’t wait to try it!
Nancy NurseAugust 19, 2020 at 8:06 am
I don’t understand the ice cubes?? What do they do?
Tina KathleenDecember 29, 2018 at 9:00 pm
Do you think that it would turn out crispy in a new wave.?…I don’t have a air fryer
Susan VoisinDecember 29, 2018 at 9:21 pm
I’m not familiar with the new wave. If it’s like a convection oven, then yes, I think it would work.
Mary CarmichaelMarch 22, 2019 at 9:36 am
What other liquid can I use instead of aquafaba?
samanthaSeptember 21, 2022 at 1:14 am
These Italian Style Air Fried Tofu seems delicious , can’t wait to try this . Thank you for sharing with us.