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7 minutes read

Popcorn Tofu Nuggets (Air Fried or Oven-Baked)

This healthy recipe for Breaded Popcorn Tofu Nuggets is perfect for game day, movie night, or dinner for the kiddos. Gluten and oil-free!

These Popcorn Tofu Nuggets are crispy, dippable, and downright delicious. Try this fun (and healthy!) alternative to deep-fried nuggets next time you're in a fast-food kind of mood. It's so yummy that even the kids will love it!

This yummy and healthier recipe for crispy tofu nuggets is about to become your favorite finger food.

Why You'll Love It

I'm always looking for snacks that would be good finger foods for game day to go along with our other favorites like my Vegan Queso and Buffalo Quinoa Balls. Popcorn tofu sounded like a perfect addition to our repertoire.

These yummy little nuggets have quickly become one of our very favorite Sunday snacks. Not only are they crispy and delicious, they're also super easy to make. As a bonus, you can make them in the air fryer, which makes them healthy and easy to clean up.

If you're like me, you love a variety of dips and sauces such as "honey" mustard, vegan ranch, and sriracha mayo, - these little guys are going to win you over in no time. They're the perfect crunchy, salty, and utterly satisfying vehicle for shoveling ALL of your favorite dips into your mouth.

Ingredients & Substitutions

Perhaps the best part about this recipe - aside from being easy and delicious, of course - is how simple it is. If you've taken my advice from the vegan pantry staples post, you likely already have everything on hand!

Here's everything you need:

  • Extra Firm Tofu: If you don't have extra firm tofu on hand you can swap in firm tofu - just be sure to press it first!
  • Quinoa Flour: I use quinoa flour to make the popcorn tofu gluten-free. Other gluten-free flours work as well such as chickpea or Bob's GF flour mix. If you are not gluten-free, you can sub regular flour. Note: do not use coconut flour - it will make the batter too thick.
  • Cornmeal: This adds a nice texture. If you are avoiding corn, you can add a little more flour to thicken the coating.
  • Nutritional Yeast: For an extra boost of flavor.
  • No-Chicken Bullion: I used both Better than Bullion no chicken base to really pump up the chick'n flavor in the batter.
  • Seasonings: I use Dijon mustard, onion powder, garlic powder, salt & pepper to add extra flavor to the batter.
  • Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk: You can use any kind of non-dairy milk you want (almond, soy, rice, etc....just make sure it's unsweetened!
  • Panko Breadcrumbs: Panko is the Japanese version of breadcrumbs. It has a crunchier texture than regular breadcrumbs, so I definitely recommend it for this recipe. That said, you can certainly swap out regular (or homemade) breadcrumbs, instead. Opt for a gluten-free version if necessary.

How to Make Breaded Tofu Nuggets

I love making these yummy little tofu nuggets because they are SO EASY. In fact, you don't even need to bust out your knife! Read on below to get the skinny on this awesome vegan appetizer recipe.

As with many tofu recipes, you're going to want to press your tofu first. This helps to remove excess liquid and results in a firmer texture. For something like these nuggets, that's an important factor!

Step 1: Press the Tofu.

You can either use a tofu press (which I highly recommend if you're going vegan), or you can place the block of tofu on a cutting board. Top it with a few layers of paper towels, then place a skillet or sheet pan on top. Weight it down with some heavy cans and wait for about an hour.

pressed tofu on a blue plate

Step 2: Tear the Tofu.

Tear your tofu into bite-sized pieces. While you *could* use a knife and cut it into cubes, there's something inherently more nugget-like when you rip it. It's also a bonus that you don't have to wash a knife or cutting board!

Step 3: Make Dipping Bowls.

Add flour, cornmeal, nutritional yeast, better than bouillon, mustard, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and milk into a large bowl and mix until combined. The consistency should be like a pancake batter. Add more milk if needed to thin it out. Put the panko crumbs in a separate bowl.

Step 4: Dip.

Dip the tofu into the batter with one hand, then place them into the panko. Shake the bowl and use your other hand to fully coat the pieces.

How to Air Fry

If you don't yet have an air fryer, you might want to look into it. Not only is it excellent to cook with when you don't want to turn on your oven, but it also does a great job of making food super crispy and delicious without all the oil of deep-frying.

Step 5 (Option 1):

Once your breaded tofu nuggets are ready, lay them in the basket of your air fryer in a single layer. Air fry them at 350F for 6 minutes, then either shake the basket or remove and flip the tofu pieces for even cooking. Return to the air fryer for another 6 minutes.

How to Bake

No air fryer? No problem! First, preheat your oven to 400F. If you want, you can line your sheet pan with some parchment. It'll make clean up a snap.

Step 6 (Option 2):

Place your breaded popcorn tofu pieces in a single layer, then pop them in the heated oven. Bake for 18-20 minutes, flipping the pieces halfway through cooking.

Serving Suggestions

As with all crunchy fried things, these popcorn tofu bites are best served hot from the air fryer or oven.

Serve the nuggets with your favorite dipping sauces such as:

  • BBQ sauce
  • Ranch dressing/sauce (check out my ranch recipe here)
  • Ketchup
  • Vegan "honey" mustard
  • Vegan blue cheese dressing
  • Sriracha mayo (recipe below)
  • Buffalo sauce - you can even toss them in buffalo sauce to make buffalo bites

Pro Tips

  • Worried about your hands getting messy during the breading process? Check out this informative post about how to use a two-handed method.
  • Want to make SPICY popcorn tofu? Add a teaspoon (or more to taste) of cayenne powder to the batter!

Imagine biting into a wedge of potato that’s crisp on the outside and smothered in a gooey cheese sauce on the inside. That’s what you get with these air-fried vegan delights. They’re a breeze to prepare with minimal ingredients and time. They’re also free of gluten and dairy, so you can savor them without any regrets. They’re versatile enough to suit any occasion and please any palate. And if you’re curious about how to thrive on a vegan diet, you can easily find nutritionists near you who can guide you. Don’t let this chance slip by, make these cheesy potato wedges today and experience their magic!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make my popcorn tofu ahead of time?

While these little bad boys are best straight from the air fryer or oven, there are a few things you can do to make the process easier.

First, you can prepare the batter up to two days in advance and keep it in the refrigerator. You may need to add a little more milk or water to thin out the batter if it gets too thick.

Second, you can press your tofu and tear it into nugget shapes ahead of time. When it's time to eat, simply dip, toss, and air fry/bake!

Is Popcorn Tofu Really Healthy?

While not all breaded tofu nuggets are created equal, that's why I made my Popcorn Tofu recipe for either the oven or air fryer. As a result, you'll avoid a bunch of extra oil that you might find in other recipes. Don't worry though - these are still crunchy and delicious! One serving has a whopping 16 grams of protein and nearly 5 grams of fiber for just a measly 261 calories and 5.5 grams of fat. That's what I call a WIN. If you want more information about the nutritional benefits of tofu, check out this post.

What is the best way to reheat breaded tofu nuggets?

I recommend reheating any leftovers in the oven, air fryer or toaster oven. Preheat oven or toaster oven to 325F. Bake for about 5 mins in a toaster oven and 5-8 min in the oven. Preheat air fryer to 300F then air fry for 3-5 mins.

I do NOT recommend microwaving leftovers, as they will end up soggy.

Can I make these gluten free?

Heck yeah, you can! They're gluten-free to begin with! Just make sure you choose a gluten-free Panko or breadcrumb.

Can I freeze the popcorn tofu?

Yes, after baking or air frying, you can free the tofu nuggets for up to 1 month. When reheating, bake on 350F for about 10-12 minutes or preheat the air fryer to 300F, and air fry for 5-7 minutes.

RECIPE

Popcorn Tofu

Author: Mary Ellen Valverde

This Popcorn Tofu is crispy, dippable, and downright delicious. Try this fun (and healthy!) alternative to deep-fried nuggets next time you're in a fast-food kind of mood. It's so yummy that even the kids will love it!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 4.70 from 10 votes

  • PREP TIME: 15 minutes
  • COOK TIME: 15 minutes
  • TOTAL TIME: 15 minutes
  • COURSE: Main Course
  • CUISINE: American
  • SERVINGS: 4
  • CALORIES: 261 kcal

INGREDIENTS

Popcorn Tofu
  • 14 oz extra firm tofu in water drained and pressed
  • ½ cup quinoa flour or any gluten-free flour if you need gf
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 3 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 Tablespoons Better Than Bouillon Vegetarian No Chicken Base
  • 1 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ¾ cup unsweetened dairy free milk more if needed
  • 1.5 cup panko bread crumbs gluten free if needed
Sriracha Mayo
  • ½ cup vegan mayo
  • 2 Tablespoon sriracha

INTRUCTIONS

1. Rip the pressed tofu into bite-size pieces.

2. Add flour, cornmeal, nutritional yeast, better than bouillon, mustard, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and milk into a large bowl and mix until combined. The consistency should be like a  pancake batter. Add more milk if needed to thin it out.

3. Add panko breadcrumbs to separate bowl.

4. Dip tofu pieces into the batter, then into breadcrumbs.*

Air Fryer Directions

1. Add as many nuggets that fit into the air fryer basket. You don't want the basket too crowded or they will stick together so you will have to do this in a few batches. Set air fryer at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Shake the basket ½ way through.

Oven Directions

1. Add tofu nuggets to sheet pan(s)**. Bake the popcorn tofu for 18-20 minutes at 400 degrees.

Sriracha Mayo

1. Mix vegan mayo and sriracha together and serve with popcorn tofu.

NOTES

*See pro tip above to get your hands less messy!

**You can line the pans with parchment paper for easier cleanup.

Nutritional info for nuggets only.

These nuggets will last 5 days in the fridge and 1 month in the freezer. See FAQ section for reheating info.

NUTRITION

  • Calories: 261kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 37.5g
  • Protein: 16g
  • Fat: 6g
  • Fiber: 4.8g
  • Vitamin A: 350IU
  • Calcium: 212.5mg
  • Iron: 2.7mg

PLEASE NOTE: Nutritional information data is computer generated and only an estimate so it should be used only as a guide.

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About the author

Mary Ellen Valverde MS, CNS, LDN
Mary Ellen Valverde MS, CNS, LDN is a Licensed Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Specialist who empowers vegans to feel clear and confident about what is uniquely nourishing to them. Mary Ellen’s recipes and nutrition information have been featured on Yahoo News, Parade, VegNews, LIVESTRONG, Dr. Axe, Greatist, LIVEKINDLY, Brit+Co, Well+Good, and more.

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