Crispy, tender, and flavorful, these Vegan Schnitzel are actually made from tofu and they’re incredibly delicious. This easy meat alternative comes together in just 15 minutes, can be made in one of three ways (instructions provided), and is the perfect protein for any meal.
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Hey Internet, I am just so excited to share this recipe with you today! I’ve been testing this tofu schnitzel for the last few weeks, just trying to get it perfect. And it’s finally there!
I actually enjoy the challenge of making gluten-free meat substitutes like my soy curl bacon, tofu-based vegan sausage crumbles, vegan chorizo, vegan meatballs, vegan shredded chicken, and vegan meatless crumbles, to name a few.
Schnitzel, a German dish, literally means slice in German. I have German heritage on my dad’s side of the family so I’ve always had an interest in German food and culture.
I actually remember this from my college days as I took a few German classes for my foreign language requirements. Unfortunately, it’s among the few things I do remember from those classes.
This dish typically consists of a slice of animal meat (usually veal, pork or chicken) pounded with a meat mallet and fried in clarified butter. Kind of a no-go for vegans. BUT, we can veganize it!
I’m also going to show you three different ways to make it: frying, air frying, or baking. So no matter whether you don’t eat oil or you don’t have an air fryer or whatever, there’s a way to make this awesome dish.
Why This Recipe Works
You may or may not know, I already have a recipe for vegan schnitzel, but it is seitan based and I’ve had a lot of folks ask if it can be made gluten-free. So I set out to make it that way.
The first trick to making this recipe so great is you need super firm tofu. I am not talking about any kind of tofu packed in a plastic tub of water.
Super firm tofu is tofu that comes vacuum-sealed, it’s like it’s already pressed. But I feel like they start out with a bigger block, so you actually end up getting more for your money.
I find this tofu at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and a few regional supermarkets, but it’s not ubiquitous. If you can’t find it, you can just press your tofu with a tofu press or two cutting boards or plates and a heavy object (like a cast iron skillet).
Another reason this recipe is so great is that you can really customize the flavor with the optional marinade as well as changing the spices included in the breading.
In this post I fried my vegan schnitzel because it looks and tastes more traditional that way. HOWEVER, I have also tested this recipe using the air fryer instead of a pan of oil and it also works! You can also bake them in the oven.
The liquid mixture of garbanzo flour / chickpea flour and non-dairy milk acts as the egg in this process, which allows the breading to adhere to the tofu schnitzel.
But I found another trick that really helps the breading stay on--before dipping the tofu into the liquid mixture, dredge it in some arrowroot powder or cornstarch. This really helps the breading stay on during the cooking process.
Either way, this recipe is finished off with a squeeze of fresh lemon right before eating--I’ve found in my research this is key to a good schnitzel!
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Optional marinade: Let’s start by talking about this marinade for a second. You definitely do not have to marinate your tofu beforehand. I’ve tried it with and without the marinade. It’s delicious either way. But the marinade does give the tofu an extra level of flavor. I’d say if you have time to marinate the tofu slices 1 - 4 hours beforehand, definitely do it. But don’t stress or feel like you can’t make good tofu schnitzel if you don’t have time to marinate. For the marinade, I just used vegan chicken broth. I like to use Better Than Bouillon No Chicken Base which is a concentrated stock paste that stays good in your fridge for at least a year (I’m not kidding. Their website says this.). Just mix that with some hot water and there’s your marinade! Any broth should work, so you could flavor the tofu with a more beef-y flavor with Better Than Bouillon No Beef Base or even like “pork” with Orrington Farms “Ham” Flavored Broth Base and Seasoning.
- Super firm tofu: For this recipe, look for the tofu in vacuum-sealed plastic, not a tub of water. I can usually find it in my local supermarket, Trader Joe’s, Asian market, and even Costco. If you only have firm or extra firm tofu (that comes in water), you can still make this vegan schnitzel. You’ll want to drain the tub of tofu and press the block of tofu, using either a tofu press or two plates or cutting boards, paper towels, and a heavy weight (like books or a cast iron pan) for 20-30 minutes. Otherwise it may turn out soggy.
- Arrowroot powder or cornstarch: This step is so useful for helping the breading stick to the tofu during the cooking process (any method). The breading can kind of come off while you flip or move the tofu, and this coating is so good you don’t want to miss out. Dredge the tofu (it’s quick, I promise!) in arrowroot powder or cornstarch first (whether you marinate it or not).
- Chickpea flour / garbanzo bean flour: This is a great gluten-free substitute for flour in this recipe, but it also really amps up the protein and the texture of the breading in my opinion. A good trick for finding some if it isn’t in your regular grocery store (but check the baking section AND the gluten-free or natural section if there is one) or health food store, if you have an Indo-pak or Indian store nearby this flour is also known as “besan” or “gram flour.” You can also easily find it online. If you’d like to use regular all purpose flour instead, that will work. You may not need all of the non-dairy milk indicated in the recipe, so add and stir as needed. You’re looking for a thicker (but still drippy) pancake batter type consistency.
- Non-dairy milk: The type of non-dairy milk (soy, almond, etc.) does not matter. Just make sure you get non-dairy milk that is labeled unsweetened and original flavor, not vanilla or something like that.
- Breadcrumbs: If you are gluten-free, use gluten-free breadcrumbs. Panko or gluten-free panko are also fine, they produce a thicker and even crispier crust. I prefer the tender crispy texture of regular breadcrumbs for vegan schnitzel, though. If you’re gluten-free and having trouble finding vegan AND gluten-free breadcrumbs, try looking for “rice crumbs” or you can take stale gluten-free bread OR gluten-free crackers and grind them up in a food processor or pulverize them yourself in a food storage bag to a fairly fine consistency.
- Nutritional yeast: I love the flavor this adds to the breading, but if you don’t like nutritional yeast or don’t have it handy, feel free to skip this.
- Spices: I used granulated onion, granulated garlic, sea salt, smoked paprika, fresh cracked black pepper, and poultry seasoning (this is vegan, just a blend of herbs typically used with poultry) to season the breading mixture. This helps it taste savory and delicious. Feel free to use the spices you enjoy.
- Oil, optional: If you are frying the schnitzel, you’ll need a high heat oil. I recommend sunflower, vegetable, corn, peanut, or canola oil for this. Avocado and grapeseed oil are also good options. If you are airfrying it, you don’t need to use any oil. For the best of both worlds, spray each side of the tofu schnitzel with avocado oil spray (or another kind) before air-frying. This will help them get golden brown but with much less oil then pan frying.
Step by Step Instructions for Making Vegan Schnitzel
- A note about the tofu and this recipe: First of all, the recipe for the breading actually makes enough for 8 pieces or 2 16-ounce blocks of tofu to be used. The reason the recipe calls for this much breading is you need enough to cover each piece of tofu. So you could get 8 pieces out of this if you prefer, however for demonstration purposes I only made 4 pieces. Another important note is that you need either super firm tofu (that comes vacuum sealed, not in a tub of water) or pressed firm tofu. If you choose to press your own tofu, you may need 2 blocks to get 4 slices, since pressing each block makes it more dense but thinner.
- Optional Marinade: If you’d like to marinate the tofu for more flavor ahead of time, I definitely recommend it. Fill a medium container (that has a very secure lid) with the vegan chicken broth (or any broth you like). Slice the tofu -- We want the slices to be fairly thin but not so thin they fall apart. I find ¼ inch (.63 centimeters or about 6 ⅓ millimeters) or slightly thicker seems to work best. Place the slices in the container, close it securely, and place in the fridge. Try to marinate the tofu for at least an hour, up to 8 hours. When you are ready to bread it, remove each slice from the container and let any excess liquid drip off.
- If baking, prep oven: If you are baking the schnitzels, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (218 degrees Celsius) and line a baking tray with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
- Set up your breading station first. You want three wide and shallow bowls for dredging the large pieces of tofu. Put the arrowroot powder or cornstarch in the first bowl. In the second, put the non-dairy milk and chickpea flour / garbanzo bean flour (the wet mixture)--you may want to mix this in a measuring cup or a bowl with taller sides and then transfer it to avoid making a mess. I like to whisk it in a measuring cup to ensure there are no lumps. In the last bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, nutritional yeast, and spices. Finally, place a plate or tray at the end where you can put the breaded tofu. You are ready to do the breading--I promise this goes really fast! A tip: If you are right handed, set up the bowls left to right, beginning with the arrowroot powder / cornstarch bowl, then the wet mix, then the breading, and finally the plate where you’ll put the breaded tofu. If you are left handed, set up the bowls right to left.
- If frying, prep pan and oil: If you are choosing to fry, start heating the oil in the pan as soon as your breading station is set up. Heat the largest skillet you have (I’m using a 12” All Clad Nonstick Skillet over high heat with a decent amount of oil--I’d say about a half inch. You want the schnitzels to “swim” in the oil.
- Slice your tofu if you haven’t already. The tofu I buy comes in a rectangular block. I am able to get 4 pieces out of it. You want the tofu to be fairly thin but not so thin it falls apart. I find ¼ inch (.63 centimeters or about 6 ⅓ millimeters) or slightly thicker seems to work best.
- Start the breading process. I find using my hands is the easiest way to do this. Tongs or forks may break the thin pieces of tofu. You can use food prep gloves if you prefer not to get the mixture on your hands. Keep in mind that you will want to cook the tofu schnitzel as soon as they are breaded otherwise they will not be as crispy.
- Coat in starch first. So to start, place the first slice of tofu in the first bowl or arrowroot powder or cornstarch. Flip it over and coat the other side. If the starch will not stick, your tofu needs to be moistened with a bit of water or broth first. Just get it slightly damp, not dripping. Make sure the edges of each tofu slice get covered in starch also. You may need to flip it a few times or use your fingers to pat the starch on.
- Now the wet mixture. Place the starch-coated tofu in the wet mixture, turning it a few times. Let the excess drip off before moving onto the breading.
- Finally place the tofu slice in the dry breading mixture. You can use your fingers to push or sprinkle the breading onto the top half so you can flip it without making too much of a mess. Make sure all sides including the edges get coated. Place the coated tofu on the plate and repeat with the other slices. Cook immediately.
- Pan frying method: Once the oil is heated you can add the tofu. The oil should be about 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or 177 degrees Celsius)--hot, but not so hot that it smokes or splatters. You can use a meat or candy thermometer to test this, or you can drop a single bread crumb into the pan of oil. If lots of little bubbles start forming around it, the pan is ready. Very carefully add the tofu to the pan. For a 12” skillet, I would only cook two patties at a time. If you have a much smaller skillet, you may only want to cook one at a time. It’s important not to crowd the pan, otherwise the tofu may cook unevenly, the breading can be rubbed off, etc. Cook each piece for only 2-3 minutes on each side. Flip very carefully. You can cook until light-medium browned or a little bit more done if you prefer crispier tofu. Place each fully cooked schnitzel on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Repeat with remaining tofu.
- Air frying method: Carefully place each breaded schnitzel in your air fryer, letting each one have at least ½-inch breathing room from the other pieces. Cook for 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius), flipping once halfway through. Tip: for extra delicious texture, spray each piece front and back with avocado oil spray (or similar, don’t use olive or coconut oil) before placing them in the air fryer. If the air fryer is drying them out too much, you can carefully add more oil when you flip them. Note that I have heard spray can wear down the nonstick coating of an air fryer so if you are concerned, instead add a little oil from a bottle with a silicone basting brush or a spoon.
- Oven method: Similar to the air fryer method, lay your breaded tofu on a lined baking tray. Leave an inch of space around each piece so they can crisp up better. Optionally spray each with a little avocado oil (or similar, don’t use olive or coconut oil), but it’s not a necessity. The schnitzel is still great without oil. Bake for 15-25 minutes, flipping halfway through and removing when both sides are the level of doneness you prefer. Tofu is done when both sides are at least medium browned in color and crispy to the touch.
- Serve immediately. We like to serve our vegan schnitzel with boiled baby potatoes (surprisingly delicious!), German-style red cabbage (see notes below for a quick recipe!), parsley, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, fresh lemon wedges. Suggest to guests that they squeeze the lemon over the schnitzel right before eating.
- These tofu schnitzel are really best on the first night, but if you have leftovers, you can store them for about 3 days. I recommend wrapping the leftovers in aluminum foil or parchment paper and then placing them in a container. Reheat in a pan, an air fryer, or an oven for a crispy texture. The microwave just kind of leaves the breading a touch soggy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Traditionally, German schnitzel is served with some sort of potatoes. From my research I gathered often it is fried, mashed, or boiled potatoes. I chose to do these boiled baby potatoes and they were absolutely delicious--so creamy, buttery, and flavorful. You could also do vegan roasted potatoes, vegan mashed potatoes, smashed potatoes (coming soon), or hasselback potatoes (coming soon). I also made some German-style sweet and sour red cabbage. I’ll put the quickie recipe for that in the notes below (in the recipe card). Finally, it is ALWAYS served with fresh lemon wedges so don’t forget those! A bit of fresh lemon on a hot and crispy tofu schnitzel? YUM. You could also serve these with any veggies you like, like roasted asparagus or broccoli.
You only need to make sure you get gluten-free breadcrumbs. If you’re having trouble finding gluten-free breadcrumbs, you can either look for gluten-free panko, rice crumbs, or you can grind up your own using either super stale gluten-free bread or gluten-free crackers. Make them in the food processor or pulverize them in a food storage bag with a mallet or just your hands. Grind or pulverize until they’re a relatively fine consistency, similar to breadcrumbs.
You can store these in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. While they are probably at their absolute best on the first night, they’re still delicious when reheated. I highly recommend reheating in a pan on the stove, an air fryer, an oven, or a toaster oven to get that crispy texture back. This particular dish won’t be as delicious when reheated in a microwave since the breading won’t crisp back up.
Tips for the Best Tofu Schnitzel
- Use super firm tofu: You want the kind of tofu that comes vacuum sealed. This will give you the best texture in my opinion. You may also choose to just press firm or extra firm tofu. Use a tofu press or two cutting boards or plates and a heavy object (like a cast iron pan) to press the tofu for about 60 minutes. Keep in mind that this compresses the block, so you may not get as many pieces out of it. You may want to get two blocks for this purpose.
- You can actually get 8 pieces out of this recipe: For demonstration purposes, I made 4 vegan schnitzel from this recipe but there is enough breading for about 8 pieces. I had to use this much breading so that there was enough in the bowls to actually coat the tofu.
- Cook immediately after breading and serve immediately after cooking: Especially the first part--if you let the tofu sit too long after being breaded, the breading might absorb more liquid and won’t get as crispy. From what I’ve read, this happens with non-vegan recipes too.
- Don’t skip the fresh lemon: A squeeze of fresh lemon before eating is a hallmark of German-style schnitzel. I was skeptical but I tried a bite before I did it--It was good! But then I tried it with the lemon and HOT DANG. That’s delicious.
- Don’t like tofu? Try my seitan-based vegan schnitzel.
More Recipes Like This
Do you love tofu as much as I do? Hint: I really love it. It’s so versatile and delicious.
I even made a whole article rounding up all my tofu recipes.
But in case you’re just looking for a new idea, here’s some of my favorites:
- Vegan Honey Garlic Tofu (no bee honey is used)
- Vegan Sheet Pan BBQ Tofu Meal
- Crispy Tofu
- Tofu Poke Bowl
- Sweet and Sour Tofu
- Bang Bang Tofu
- Tofu Adobo
- Puffed Tofu
- Sticky Tofu
- Tofu Salmon
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