If you're looking for a quick, but flavor-packed dinner, make these Crispy Sweet Chili Tofu Bowls. They come together in just about 30 minutes. By the end, you'll be happily digging into crispy tofu that's coated in Thai Sweet Chili Sauce—and piled over fluffy rice to soak up every last drop. The combination hits all the marks: crispy and soft, sweet and spicy, light but satisfying.
There are a few components to this dish, but it comes together faster than you think. The air fryer makes quick work of crisping up the tofu. (If you don't have an air fryer, not to worry—this recipe includes an oven baked method too!) While the tofu cooks, you'll make the easy homemade sweet chili sauce in a skillet. Then, when the tofu is golden brown, you'll add it to the warm sauce, toss to coat, and spoon it over rice. And just like that, dinner is served!
You need just about 10 ingredients for this recipe! A couple of the ingredients are shared across the different components. Here's what you'll need:
- For the crispy tofu: extra-firm tofu, tamari (or soy sauce), garlic powder, cornstarch, panko breadcrumbs, oil spray
- For the Thai sweet chili sauce: sugar, rice vinegar, garlic, Sriracha, tamari, cornstarch, red pepper flakes
- For serving: cooked rice, green onion
Find the recipe card below for the complete recipe, including all ingredients and instructions.
How to make
Crispy breaded air fryer tofu
Making the crispiest, golden brown tofu is easy with an air fryer! The method is:
- Marinate the tofu: Let the cubed tofu briefly sit in a tamari and garlic powder mixture to soak up flavor.
- Coat the tofu: Then, sprinkle the tofu with cornstarch and toss to mix. Then, dip the tofu into panko breadcrumbs to coat.
- Bake the tofu: Give the panko-crusted tofu a spray with oil, then bake in an air fryer until golden brown. It's amazing how quickly the air fryer creates a crispy, brown crust with such little oil.
The recipe card below has all the info you need to make this recipe. But, if you'd like to see detailed step-by-step photos of the crispy breaded air fryer tofu method, check out this post!
Also, if you don't have an air fryer, don't worry—you can still make this recipe! We've included detailed oven method instructions in the recipe card below. Budget more cooking time though, because conventional ovens are slower.
Sauce for the crispy tofu bowls
While the tofu is baking, you'll have time to make the homemade Thai sweet chili sauce. It's so fast to make! We love this sauce so much, we've already shared the recipe to make a larger (double) batch of sauce on its own.
To make this recipe as user friendly as possible, we've included the sauce ingredients and method directly in the recipe card below. This recipe yields just enough sauce for coating the tofu. If you love sweet chili sauce as much as we do—and want to have extra on hand—then consider making a double batch (see here).
Once the sauce is done and the tofu is baked, you'll toss them together directly in the skillet. Then spoon those saucy irresistible cubes of tofu over steamed rice and garnish with scallions. If you're feeling fancy, we've included some other add-on ideas below.
This recipe and the photographs show the simple combination we eat most often—ie. when we're in a rush and want something filling and flavorful to eat ASAP. That said, you can definitely build out these tofu bowls with more veggies and colorful toppings to give them more of a buddha bowl vibe. Buddha bowls usually have a mix of proteins, grains, fresh veggies and/or fruit. This recipe already has proteins and grains, so all you need to do is add some veggies.
Here are some additional toppings that would taste delicious with in these Sweet Chili Tofu Bowls:
- Sesame Spiced Edamame
- Fresh cubed mango
- Thinly sliced carrots
- Chopped cucumber
- Quick Pickled Onions
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Fresh cilantro
If there are any other toppings you added to these crispy tofu bowls—and loved— let us know in the comments!
Frequently asked questions
Yes! You can still make this recipe without an air fryer. Instead of air frying the tofu at 400°F (200°C), you'll need bake it at a slightly higher temperature and for longer. The browning on the crust will likely be a bit more uneven in the oven, but it'll still taste great!
With the oven method, it's important to be especially generous with the oil spray. Since an air fryer circulates hot air much faster, and within a smaller space, you can get a crispy crust with very little oil. But with an oven, you'll need to use more oil. See the recipe card for full details.
To be completely honest, this dish is best enjoyed fresh. Fried breaded foods are always at their best when they are their hottest and crispiest. One benefit of the crispy breaded crust is that gives the chili garlic sauce a good base to cling to. But while this is delicious hot, it will eventually soften under the sauce as it sits. So for the best flavor and texture, we don't recommend storing leftovers.
But...if you're going to do it anyways, here's how!
If you unexpectedly have leftovers: refrigerate in an airtight container and just expect the tofu to be softer the next day (it'll still be tasty).
If you know you'll have leftovers: refrigerate the tofu and sauce separately. Reheat the tofu in an air fryer, and the sauce over the stove, then combine fresh the next day.
We love pairing steamed Jasmine rice with many Asian recipes! But you could also use long or short grain white rice, or long or short grain brown rice.
Crispy Sweet Chili Tofu Bowls
- 12 oz extra-firm tofu
- 2 tablespoons tamari (or soy sauce)
- ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ⅔ cup panko breadcrumbs (gluten-free if needed)
- Oil spray (grapeseed oil or olive oil)
Sweet Chili Sauce
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar (or cane sugar)
- ⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon cold water
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 1 to 1½ teaspoon Sriracha, divided
- 1 teaspoon tamari (or soy sauce)
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Cooked rice (such as Jasmine, for serving)
- Thinly sliced scallions/green onions (for garnish)
- Marinate Tofu: Cut tofu into ¾-inch (2cm) cubes, then pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Transfer to a shallow dish. Pour tamari and sprinkle garlic powder over tofu. Use your hands to gently toss to coat. Let marinate for 6 to 8 minutes, flipping the cubes every couple of minutes, until most—but not all—of the tamari is absorbed (see note 1).
- Coat tofu: Sprinkle cornstarch over tofu, then use your hands to gently toss to coat. Continue until there is no powdery cornstarch visible. Transfer the tofu, one at a time, into the panko. Use your clean hand to press the panko into the tofu, if needed, so that the panko coats all sides.
- Air fry tofu (or bake in oven, see note 2): Arrange coated tofu in a single layer in an air fryer basket. Give the tofu a good spray of oil (this helps with browning). Bake at 400°F (200°C) in the air fryer (no need to preheat) for 10 minutes. Shake the basket, spray with oil again, then bake for 1 to 3 more minutes, or until crispy and golden brown.
- Start Sauce: While the tofu bakes, combine sugar, ⅓ cup of the cold water, rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon of the Sriracha, and tamari in a skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally. Then, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 3 minutes to let the flavors meld.
- Finish Sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 tablespoon cold water with cornstarch. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the sauce, whisking frequently. Continue cooking until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add red pepper flakes (see note 3). Taste and add the remaining ½ teaspoon Sriracha if you'd like the sauce to be spicier.
- Assemble: As soon as the tofu is done baking, add it to the skillet of sauce. Gently toss to coat. Spoon rice into bowls, top with tofu, and garnish generously with scallions. Enjoy immediately (see note 4).
- Seasoning tofu with tamari: In this step, you want the tofu to absorb most of the tamari (for flavor), but not all of it, because the small amount of unabsorbed tamari will help hydrate the cornstarch and wet the tofu enough so the panko sticks. If your tofu ended up absorbing all the tamari, add a little splash of more tamari, then continue with the next step of adding cornstarch.
- Alternate oven instructions: Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). When cutting the tofu, really try to make them ¾-inch (2cm) or even slightly smaller, to give them the best chance at getting crispy. Follow the recipe instructions for marinating and coating the tofu. Then, spray a baking sheet with oil. Arrange the tofu in a single layer on the baking sheet, and spray the tofu generously with oil (the oven needs more oil to get similar browning). Bake for 15 minutes. Flip the cubes, spray the tops with more oil, then bake for another 5 to 15 minutes until golden brown and crisp. The oven method tends to yield less even browning, so keep an eye on the tofu and remove any cubes that are done before the rest.
- Red pepper flakes: The red pepper flakes are mostly to provide the "look" of a typical sweet chili sauce with visible pepper—but they too add heat. If you find the sauce is already too spicy for you, feel free to leave it out or reduce as needed.
- Crispy sauced tofu is best enjoyed fresh: This dish is best enjoyed hot and freshly sauced. Over time, the breading will soften from the wet sauce.
- Nutritional estimate includes 1 cup of cooked rice per serving (3 cups total).