I LOVE salt and pepper dishes – from pork chops, shrimp, frog legs, squid – you name it! If you’re not familiar with ‘salt and pepper’ style dishes, it is a traditional Chinese style of cooking that uses a blend of roasted salt and black pepper, plush optional spices to season the dish. It’s more complex in flavor than regular table salt and black pepper and you can essentially make any dish ‘salt and pepper’ style by using this blend of seasoning – even tofu!
Salt and pepper tofu encompasses the same flavors and style of preparation as any other protein but I wanted to make a lighter and healthier version at home. The traditional way of preparing this dish is to deep fry the tofu before stir-frying it in a wok or pan with the rest of the ingredients. Now, I wanted to create a lighter and healthier version so instead of deep-frying the tofu, I decided to cook the tofu in my air fryer instead. It turned out fantastic and best of all, it’s guilt-free too!
Why you’ll love this recipe
Don’t underestimate the simple combination of roasted salt and black pepper – it creates a delectable base of flavor for the crispy tofu. The addition of sauteed garlic and scallions makes the dish even more irresistible, while the green pepper and Thai chili peppers instantly turn up the heat.
Air frying the tofu will significantly reduce the amount of cookware and utensils used and cut down the grease while maintaining its crispy exterior. The best part about this recipe is the accessibility of these ingredients – many of which you should already have!
How do I prepare Air Fryer Salt and Pepper Tofu?
Making this scrumptious tofu dish only requires a few steps. To get started, check out the instructions below!
Step 1: Press the tofu
Remove the firm tofu from the packaging and drain the liquid well. Next, wrap the whole block of tofu with a paper towel or kitchen towel.
Place a heavy pan (like cast iron) on top to extract excess moisture from the tofu. This will result in crispy tofu! Set it aside for 20 minutes.
Step 2: Prep the aromatics & vegetables
Next, prep the rest of the ingredients. Start by mincing the garlic.
Then chop the onions, scallions, long green pepper, and Thai chili pepper.
Step 3: Toast the black pepper
While waiting for the tofu, heat a pan over medium-low heat and toast the ground black pepper for 5 minutes or until it turns fragrant. Then, remove from the heat and set aside.
Step 4: Toast the salt
Next, toast the salt for 5 minutes or until it turns to a yellowish hue. Remove from the heat and mix it with the toasted black pepper.
Step 5: Saute the garlic
In the same pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-low heat. Toss in the minced garlic and saute until it turns light golden brown and fragrant.
Strain the garlic from the oil and set aside. Reserve the oil to be used later.
Step 6: Prepare the tofu
Unwrap the tofu from the paper towel and cut it into small cubes (about 2×1 inches).
Transfer to a mixing bowl or plastic bag then add ½ teaspoon of the toasted salt and pepper mixture and 1 tablespoon of oil. Toss well, making sure the tofu is fully coated on each side.
Next, add the cornstarch and toss the mixture again, making sure all of the tofu cubes are evenly coated.
Step 7: Air fry the tofu
Pre-heat the air fryer to 400°F (205°C). Spray the air-fryer basket or tray with cooking oil spray. Place the tofu onto the air-fryer basket or tray.
Make sure each tofu cube has enough space – they should not be touching! Air fry for 12 minutes and flip halfway through.
Step 8: Saute the ingredients
Heat the leftover oil that you previously saved from the garlic over medium heat. Then, add the red onions and saute for 1 minute.
Next, add the long green pepper, Thai chili pepper, and air-fried tofu. Stir-fry for about 1 minute or until the aromatics are fragrant.
Step 9: Combine the ingredients
In the same pan, toss in the scallions and toasted garlic.
Season it with a bit more of the toasted salt and pepper mixture. Stir fry and mix everything together.
Serve with a fresh bowl of rice and enjoy while hot!
Cooking tips for Air Fryer Salt and Pepper Tofu
The steps in this recipe are pretty straightforward and easy to follow. But to help you make the best version of this dish every time, here are a few tips you can keep in mind:
- The tofu MUST be pressed to get rid of the excess moisture. This will ensure that the tofu stays firm and crispy.
- Be careful not to burn the garlic when sauteeing it or else it will give the dish a bitter taste! Strain the garlic from the oil once it has a light-brown color. The garlic will continue to cook and brown as it strains.
- When air frying the tofu, make sure to put enough space in between each tofu to prevent them from sticking to each other.
- You can adjust the number of green peppers and Thai chili peppers based on your spice tolerance. To reduce the spicy levels, just reduce the number of peppers added.
Firm tofu: I prefer to use Korean firm tofu for this recipe because I think it tastes superior to other tofu brands. You can also use extra firm tofu but I don’t recommend using silken or soft tofu.
Salt: You can use any salt however I prefer using sea salt or kosher salt.
Black pepper: freshly cracked black pepper add a more peppery and spicy note however you can use pre-ground black pepper as well.
Red onion: I used red onion to add some color but you can use yellow or white onion too.
Long green pepper: The long green pepper is going to add a subtle spice. You can also use any type of green chili pepper of your choice, including jalapeno, poblano, or serrano pepper.
Thai chili pepper: Thai chili peppers are jam-packed with a whole lot of heat. This is where you can adjust the spiciness of the dish by using fewer or more peppers. You can also swap these chilis for serrano pepper or crushed red pepper flakes.
Neutral oil: any neutral-tasting oil will be suitable for this recipe, including:
Cornstarch: the cornstarch creates a light and crispy exterior on the tofu as it cooks in the air fryer. You can also use all-purpose flour, rice flour, or potato starch.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why should you press firm tofu with a paper towel?
I recommend pressing the firm tofu for at least 20 minutes before cooking because it will squeeze out all the moisture from the tofu. Any liquid that’s inside the tofu will make it soft, tender, and delicate, causing it to break up easily. Pressing the tofu will improve its texture of the tofu, making it more compact and crispier after air frying. It will also absorb any marinades or seasonings better, making it more delicious to eat!
Why do you toast the salt and pepper?
Toasting the ground black pepper and salt is crucial for this recipe because it enhances the dish’s taste and aroma. Toasted black pepper will have a smokier and spicier taste, while toasted salt will mimic the smoky flavor of a good stir-fry.
Be sure not to burn the ground black pepper while toasting it since this will give it a bitter and acrid taste. You can prevent this by constantly stirring, and immediately taking it off the heat once it’s fragrant. If you like the enhanced flavors of toasted salt and black pepper, you can also make a big batch to add to other recipes. Just make sure to store them in an airtight jar or container to keep them fresh!
Why is my air-fried tofu not crispy?
If you’re air-fried tofu doesn’t turn out as crispy as you’d expect, you might have taken them out of the air fryer too early. If that’s the case, you can air fry them again for a few more minutes until the exterior turns golden brown and crispy. If they are taking a substantial amount of time to cook (more than usual), it might be a sign that the air fryer basket or tray is overcrowded. Make sure to only place one layer at a time and cook the rest in batches.
Can you store and reheat Air Fryer Salt and Pepper Tofu?
Yes, you can store leftover tofu in the fridge, but make sure to keep it in an airtight container and it will stay fresh for up to 4 days. To reheat the tofu, pop it back in the air fryer for 4 to 5 minutes or until they’re hot. Alternatively, you can also reheat the leftover tofu in a pan for a few minutes. Don’t forget to turn the tofu cubes halfway to make sure they heat evenly.
Looking for more easy and delicious tofu recipes? Check out these recipes below!
1. Korean Silken Tofu – if you’re looking for an easy 5-minute soft and silky tofu recipe, you have to give this one a try!
2. Impossible Mapo Tofu – albeit its name, making this recipe isn’t as impossible as you’d think. It’s jam-packed with a combination of chili peppers – making it the perfect meal for spicy food lovers!
3. Seafood Soondubu – this hearty stew is full of clams, squid, and silken tofu, so you could imagine how rich and flavorful it is. The best thing about this is you can also add as much seafood as you like!
4. Maeun Tang (Korean Spicy Fish Stew) – speaking of seafood, you won’t waste any parts of a fish with this recipe since you will incorporate the bones to make a comforting stew. With the addition of tofu, it’s absolutely irresistible!
5. Soybean Paste Stew – for a comforting take on a tofu stew, you might want to try one of my childhood favorites! This is an easily customizable stew and great to use up any lingering aromatics or vegetables in your fridge!
Air Fryer Salt and Pepper Tofu
- 16 oz firm tofu
- 1/2 red onion diced
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 scallion chopped
- 1 long green pepper sliced
- 1 Thai chili pepper sliced
- 3 tbsp neutral oil like canola, vegetable, avocado, sunflower seed, grapeseed, corn
- 1 tbsp cornstarch substitute with potato starch, rice flour or all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper freshly cracked or pre-ground
- 1 tsp salt
- Remove the tofu from the packaging and drain well. Wrap the tofu with a paper towel or kitchen towel and set a heavy pan (such as a cast iron) on top. This will help remove excess water from the tofu. Set aside for 20 minutes.
- While waiting for the tofu, heat a pan over medium-low heat. Toast the ground black pepper for 5 minutes or until fragrant. Remove and set aside.
- Next, toast the salt for 5 minutes or until it turns into a yellowish hue. Remove and mix with the toasted black pepper. Toasting the pepper and salt will accentuate the flavors.
- In the same pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-low heat. Toss in the minced garlic and cook until light brown. Strain then set aside. Don't throw away the oil – set it aside to be used later.
- Unwrap the tofu from the paper towel then cut it into small cubes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the toasted salt and pepper mixture and 1 tablespoon of oil. Toss to make sure the tofu is fully coated. Add the cornstarch and toss again, making sure all the tofu cubes are coated.
- Pre-heat the air fryer at 400F / 205C. Transfer the tofu onto the basket or tray. Make sure each tofu cube has enough space around it. They should not be touching! Air fry for 12 minutes making sure to flip halfway through.
- Heat the leftover oil that you previously saved from the garlic over medium heat. Then, add the red onions and saute for 1 minute. Next, add the long green pepper, Thai chili pepper, and air-fried tofu. Stir-fry for about 1 minute or until the aromatics are fragrant.
- In the same pan, toss in the scallions and toasted garlic. Season it with a bit more of the toasted salt and pepper mixture. Stir fry and mix everything together.
- Serve with a fresh bowl of rice and enjoy while hot!
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*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that where I may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. *