A few days ago, I set out to replicate a love of my distant past and created a vegan version of Popeye’s fried chicken. Along the way, I learned that soy curls really are a wonder food and that vegan “chicken” fingers taste great on salad. And I saved my house from burning down!
So this is the short (for those of you who hate bloggers’ stories) and sweet (for those of you who love them) story of how this recipe came about and how it helped me discover a threat to my house’s safety:
First, spicy vegan fried “chicken” came about thanks to my FatFree Vegan group on Facebook. Someone asked what to do with soy curls, and as the ideas flowed in, I realized that I wasn’t using soy curls to their full potential. (Most frequently I throw them into “chicken” noodle soup or add barbecue sauce to them for sandwiches; occasionally I go all out and add them to Pasta with White Sauce.)
Someone mentioned Kathy Hester’s Southern Fried Soy Curls recipe, which made me really want to experiment with a Popeye’s-style version. So I got to work, made them in the Breville Smart Oven Air, and served them to my delighted husband on the salad you see above. It was a hit!
But I didn’t take any process photos or video, and I wanted to get the time and temp right for cooking them in the oven, so the next day, I made them again with the video camera running. When I got to the time to bake them, I decided to move my Breville Smart Oven to a brighter spot in the kitchen. I went to unplug it–and couldn’t. The plug was melted into the wall adapter I had been using for years.
I finally got the Breville’s plug out and found that it looked damaged, so it’ll have to be replaced before I can safely use it.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Do not plug your air fryer into any kind of adapter! I did it without thinking, and the results could have been tragic.
Back to the “short” story: Well, the video was now not possible. I put the battered soy curls in the fridge and tried to figure out what to do. My kitchen wall oven is not reliable, so I never use it for calculating recipe times and temperature and totally rely on the Breville. We ate hummus that night.
The next day, I realized that I had kept my old Breville Smart Oven (non-Air). I had my husband get it down from the attic, and I was able to use it to make spicy vegan fried chicken in a baking pan.
I think the air-fried version (shown above) was a little crispier, but the oven-fried was just as tasty. And sitting overnight before cooking didn’t seem to hurt it at all.
About Soy Curls
Butler’s Soy Curls have been around for years. I was lucky to discover them in our local health food store’s bulk bins, but unfortunately that store closed last year. So I’ve been buying them in bulk online, mostly through Amazon but sometimes directly from Butler Foods. I usually come out ahead on Amazon when I buy in bulk with Prime shipping (and I use Amazon Smile to send a portion of the cost to my favorite Pomeranian rescue.)
If you’re not familiar with soy curls, they are eerily similar to the texture of chicken. They’re made from entire non-GMO soybeans and they’re dehydrated, so to use them you have to add water to them or put them into a soup or stew, like my Javanese-Inspired Chicken Soup. They have no flavor of their own, so I always rehydrate them in broth or water with added seasonings.
Be sure to store them in the freezer because they do go rancid at room temperature. Believe me, you do not want to smell or taste rancid soy curls!
Vegan Spicy Fried Chicken on a Salad
Y’all know I’ve been hanging out too much on Instagram, where life is beautiful all of the time, and vegan foods must have fresh vegetables! So I served my husband fried soy curls on a bed of baby greens with tomatoes, sugar snap peas, multicolored carrots, and Hidden Cashew Ranch Dressing. And HE LOVED IT.
Other Ways to Serve Spicy Vegan Fried “Chicken”
The second time I made it, I went more traditional and served my oven-fried chicken with barbecue sauce and had baked potato and broccoli as side dishes. I really love dipping the spicy soy curls into sauce for added spiciness.
Another great way to serve them would be to make Buffalo Soy Curls by tossing the “fried” soy curls with hot sauce and then baking or air frying them again for a few minutes.
The same goes for Barbecued Soy Curls: Make the recipe as written, toss with barbecue sauce, and then air fry or bake until heated through. I’ll be trying both of these variations soon!
Vegan Spicy Fried "Chicken" Soy Curls
- 2 tablespoons cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1-2 teaspoons creole seasoning (use more or less to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder (use smoked paprika to reduce spiciness)
- 1 tablespoon plain non-dairy yogurt (or 2 1/2 teaspoons non-dairy milk and 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice)
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- Put the soy curls in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the hot or boiling water, bouillon, 1/4 teaspoon chipotle pepper, and black pepper. Bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes, until the soy curls have softened. Remove from the heat and set aside while you mix the coating ingredients.
- Combine the dry coating ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk the yogurt and hot sauce together in a large bowl (large enough to hold the soy curls.)
- Place the air fryer basket in the air fryer. If you’re using an oven, put a baking sheet into the oven. Preheat your air fryer/oven. For the Breville Air, use the air frying setting and set the temperature to 425F. For a regular air fryer or oven, set the temperature to 400F.
- Using a colander, drain the soy curls (you can keep the liquid and use it to add salt and flavor to soups and gravies if you want.) Use the back of a large spoon to press as much liquid as you can out of the soy curls.
- Pour the soy curls into the bowl with the yogurt mixture and toss well to coat. Sprinkle the dry mix onto the curls a little at a time as you stir to make sure they’re all evenly coated.
- Place perforated parchment paper in your air fryer basket or regular parchment paper on your baking sheet. Pour the soy curls onto the paper and spread them out so that they aren’t touching.
- In the Breville or air fryer, cook for 6 minutes and then shake the basket or stir to shift them around. (At this point in the Breville, I was able to remove the parchment paper without them sticking.) Cook for 5-7 more minutes, until the soy curls are crispy on the outside.
- In the oven, cook for 10 minutes and then turn the soy curls over as best you can, breaking up any that have stuck together. Cook for 10-15 more minutes, until the soy curls are crispy on the outside.
- Serve with your choice of dipping sauces or on a salad with ranch dressing.
Nutritional info is approximate.
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