Crispy Vegan Air Fryer Tofu Panko Recipe

When many people think of air fryers, they picture things like french fries and fried chicken. Did you know your air fryer can also be used to cook tasty, crispy vegan meals that are both nutritious and delicious? 

This vegan air fryer tofu panko with sesame oil boasts a light crispy texture that pairs well with the dipping sauce of your choosing.

Or serve it atop a salad or warm bed of Mediterranean vegetables for a tasty, well-balanced meal that doesn’t consume a lot of time to prepare. 

Similar to tempura tofu, this protein can also be used in several different cuisines, making it a highly versatile meal foundation with an irresistible flavor. 

Here’s What You’ll Need

  • 16 Ounces extra firm tofu
  • ½ C Vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • ¼ C Reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon rice wine vinegar
  • ½ Teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 Teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 Cup Panko breadcrumbs
  •  1 Teaspoon sea salt

Optional

  • ½ Teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon hot sauce or sriracha
  • 1 Teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 Teaspoon lemon pepper of 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • Chives for plating

Here’s How to Make Air Fryer Panko Sesame Tofu

Step 1: Rinse Your Extra Firm Tofu

Place your tofu in a strainer, then rinse it with hot, salted water to increase flavor and draw out moisture for an impressively crisp and flavorful final product. 

Pat it dry with a paper towel.

Rinsing Tofu

Step 2: Slice Tofu

Slice the tofu block into slabs. 

Typically, you’ll want at least four or five slabs of tofu to work with so that you can cut it into bite-sized cubes for the perfectly textured bite that pairs well with a variety of side dishes.

Step 3: Press Tofu Slabs

Press your tofu on a plate underneath a frying pan or something of similar weight for 20-30 minutes to extract as much moisture as possible. 

Ultimately, this will improve its internal texture while increasing its crispiness. 

Step 4: Get Tofu Ready for Coating

Once you extract as much moisture as possible, you can begin preparing your tofu for breading. 

First, place it on a cutting board and slice it into even strips, then cut in the opposite direction to create 1-inch by 1-inch cubes. Set tofu aside.

Step 5: Prepare the Marinade

Take a small mixing bowl and add sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, powder, and ginger. 

Whisk until all ingredients are blended thoroughly. 

Step 6: Marinate Tofu for at Least 30 Minutes

Place the tofu cubes in a shallow dish, then pour the marinade evenly over the tofu and allow it to marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour. 

Alternatively, you can allow it to marinate for up to 24 hours for increased flavor.

Step 7: Prepare Breading

Remove your tofu from the refrigerator, then measure your mayo and place it into a bowl. 

In another bowl, whisk together your salt and panko crumbs. 

Step 8: Bread Your Tofu Evenly

Take each tofu cube and dredge it into the mayo followed by the panko/salt mixture until each piece is evenly coated. 

Step 9: Arrange Tofu in Air Fryer Basket

Arrange the breaded tofu in a single layer inside your air fryer basket, planning to cook it in two batches, then place the basket inside your air fryer.

Step 10: Cook Your Panko Tofu

Cook for 10-20 minutes depending on the make of your air fryer. You want your tofu a golden tan color for optimal texture and flavor. 

See the air fryer chart below to determine the ideal temperature and time to cook your tofu based on the air fryer model.

Optional: Top with chives

Optional Modifications and Substitutions  

Tofu is a highly versatile protein that serves as a vehicle for all different flavors and types of cuisine. From Chinese and Thai to Mediterranean and American, it can be used in dishes from all around the world. 

In turn, if the flavors of this original recipe are not pleasing to your taste buds, there is an array of sauces, marinades, and spice combinations that can be used to change up the flavor. 

For instance, rather than adding sesame oil, ginger, and garlic, you might consider the following additions with or without the panko.

Herbs and Spices

  • Cayenne
  • Chili
  • Curry
  • Basil
  • Lemongrass
  • Onion
  • Oregano
  • Sesame seeds

Sauces and Marinades

  • Sweet chili sauce
  • Soy sauce and lime
  • Kimchi
  • Peanut sauce
  • Garlic soy-sesame sauce
  • Maple syrup and dijon mustard
  • Honey and ginger
  • Coconut and lime
  • Buffalo sauce

Alternative Recipe Ideas

Panko breadcrumbs are much healthier than traditional breadcrumbs, with large flakes that provide a more defined, crispy texture. However, Panko is also very low in nutritional value and high in net carbs. 

So, if you follow a vegan diet for health reasons and would like to try this recipe – you might consider leaving out the panko. 

With any of the above sauces or spices, you can easily make naturally crisp tofu in the air fryer without any sort of coating that is rich in flavor. Check out some additional vegan flavor recommendations below.

Sesame Tofu

Looking for a stronger sesame flavor? Replace the marinade and panko in this recipe with garlic, ginger, white sesame seeds, brown sugar, sriracha, and brown sugar for a sweet and spicy sesame taste.

Meditteranean Tofu

For a zesty Meditteranean dish, replace the panko and marinade with garlic, oregano, thyme, black pepper, and lemon juice. 

Tofu Steak

If you prefer a tofu steak to cubes, you can choose any of the flavor combinations found here and apply them to your tofu after it is divided into slabs. In this case, consider upping your cooking time to 20 minutes.

Tempura Tofu

Perfect for pairing with a variety of dipping sauces, you can also replace the ingredients in this recipe with flour, corn flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper for that classic tempura texture.

Air Fryer Cooking Times

ModelCooking timeTemperature
Ninja Foodi12-15 Minutes380-Degrees
Philips Airfryer XXL (HD9630)10-15 Minutes375-Degrees
Nuwave Bravo XL Grill10 Minutes400-Degrees
Power XL 2&3 Qt Vortex10-12 Minutes400-Degrees
Cuisinart11-15 Minutes400-Degrees
Cosori8 Minutes400-Degrees
Breville Smart Oven12-15 Minutes375-Degrees

Can You Prepare This Recipe Ahead of Time?

While pre-breading your tofu is not a good idea due to its tendency to become soggy when left to sit, you can definitely rinse, press, and chop your tofu ahead of time. 

In fact, your recipe will turn out even better if you also prepare the marinade ahead of time, allowing the tofu to marinate all day in the fridge for impressive flavors that completely transform this humble protein.

Can it Be Frozen and Stored for Future Meals?

Not only can this dish be frozen for up to 3 months, but doing so actually extracts further moisture, resulting in a tastier, more texturized product.

Other Tips & Tricks

For crispy panko tofu, you want your air fryer set at a temperature no lower than 370 degrees. Also, be sure you purchase extra firm tofu and extract as much moisture as possible during preparation.

Tofu Cooking Information

KindCooking timeTemperature
Soft5 Minutes350-Degrees
Medium12 Minutes375-Degrees
Firm10-12 Minutes400-Degrees
Extra Firm10-15  Minutes370-Degrees
Tofu Panko in Air Fryer

Tofu Panko in Air Fryer

Yield: 3
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 1 minute
Total Time: 1 hour 1 minute

Are you looking for a new vegan dish to try in your air fryer? This panko-breaded sesame tofu has big flavors and a tremendous texture that lends itself perfectly to a variety of meals. 

With spices like garlic and ginger alongside soy sauce and rice vinegar, this air fryer meat substitute has flavors that are reminiscent of many classic Asian dishes. In turn, it pairs well with white or brown rice, fried rice, noodles, and vegetable blends. 

Not only that, but this recipe is also incredibly easy to put together, using just a few ingredients commonly found in many households.

Ingredients

  • 1 Block of extra firm tofu
  • ½ C Vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • ¼ C Soy sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon rice vinegar
  • ½ Teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 Teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 Cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 Teaspoon sea salt

Instructions

  1. Rinse tofu block with hot, salted water and drain
  1. Press tofu on a plate beneath a frying pan for 20-30 minutes
  2. Slice the block into slabs and then into strips
  3. Cut the strips horizontally to create 1×1 inch cubes
  4. Whisk together sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic powder, and ginger in a small bowl
  5. Pour marinade over tofu cubes and allow to marinate for 30 minutes
  6. Whisk together panko and salt 
  7. Dredge tofu into mayo, then into the panko mix until evenly coated
  8. Arrange tofu in a single layer in your air fryer basket in two batches
  9. Insert basket into the air fryer and cook for 10-20 minutes 
  10. Remove and allow to cool before serving

Notes

Once each batch is done, shake the basket to dislodge any pieces that may be stuck. Then serve alone or with your choice, of salad, rice, noodles, or mixed vegetables, for a truly delightful vegan meal.

The brand of tofu you buy does not matter – all brands cook the same.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 3 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 504Total Fat: 32gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 25gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 2275mgCarbohydrates: 35gFiber: 3gSugar: 6gProtein: 22g
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