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Vegan Chicken Nuggets Recipe: Kid-Friendly Vegan Meals

You can make some of the most delicious meals in the world with vegan ingredients, but they tend to be light and full of fresh fruits and veggies. Sometimes, vegans want comfort food too! These meat-free nuggets made with baked, breaded tofu are just the right thing to hit the spot on days when you want a childhood indulgence. 

When I was growing up, chicken nuggets night was always a big deal - my parents made relatively healthy dinners, and my siblings and I loved a good "junk food" dinner night!

As times have changed, many of us adopt vegan diets that no longer make space for these animal-based foods. 

I love eating healthy, fresh vegan meals for the most part, but they tend to be a little lighter than meat-based ones. When I first transitioned to veganism, I began to struggle as I couldn't find any good treats to satisfy the rare cravings I have for a more decadent meal. 

Since then, I've slowly discovered ways to indulge in a plant-based diet, and one of my favorites are these vegan chicken nuggets. 

They're salty, breaded, and rich - everything you'd get out of a classic nugget! Cut them into any shapes you'd like, though the kids say they taste the best when shaped like dinosaurs, and I can't argue with that.

You can prepare these nuggets in the oven or air fryer, so they'll be deliciously crisp but still lighter than the deep-fried, oil-laden versions. These nuggets require a bit of prep work, but I promise they're well worth it!

How to make tofu chicken nuggets

 Nugget ingredients

  • 1 16-oz block extra firm tofu 
  • 1 c. vital wheat gluten
  • 2 -3 tsp vegan, chicken-flavored bouillon powder or seasoning
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1-2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 tsp liquid smoke
  • 2 Tbsp tapioca or cornstarch
  • 1/4 c. nutritional yeast
  • 2 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil
  • 1/2 - 3/4 c. filtered water
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt

Breading ingredients

  • 3 c. vegan bread crumbs
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. tapioca or cornstarch
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c. vegan yogurt or sour cream
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened plant milk

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Remove the extra firm tofu from the package, and press it in a tofu press like this for 15 mins. 
  2. Break the tofu into large chunks and place it into a high-powered food processor with a metal blade. Process the tofu pieces for 1 min until it breaks down.
  3. Add wheat gluten, bouillon powder, garlic powder, onion powder, sage, rosemary, liquid smoke, cornstarch, nutritional yeast, oil, water, and sea salt. Start with ½ c. of water, and add more by the Tbsp as needed.
  4. Run the food processor for a few mins, until the mixture forms a dough, then let it run longer to knead the dough until smooth.*
  5. Once your dough is smooth and well-formed, remove it from the food processor and place it on a clean surface, like the counter. Use your hands to knead the nugget dough for 1 min, forming an ~ 12" x 18" shape.
  6. Use a 1 or 2" sized cookie cutter and cut shapes from the tofu dough. When you've run out of space, roll the scraps into a ball and press them out into another rectangle. 
  7. Repeat until you use all of the tofu dough. 
  8. Line a baking sheet in parchment or foil and spray with cooking oil. Evenly spread the seitan chicken pieces and ensure they are not touching each other, as they will expand as they bake. 
  9. Spray the tofu tops with oil and sprinkle with seasoning as you like. 
  10. Tightly cover the entire pan in foil, tucking the edges under the sides of the pan so that the seitan can steam.
  11.  Place the wrapped nuggets on the center rack of the preheated oven and steam for 20 mins.
  12. Pull the pan from the oven and remove the foil. Allow the vegan chicken nuggets to cool slightly, then transfer them to a bowl or Tupperware container. 
  13. Place the nuggets in the fridge for ~ 3 hours to cool. This rest time will help the vegan chicken nuggets firm up and make the texture more meat-like.
  14. Once the nuggets have rested, prepare the coating. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the vegan yogurt or sour cream with the plant milk. 
  15. In another mixing bowl, add 3 c. of bread crumbs, starch, flour, and seasoning. 
  16. Start by dipping the meatless nuggets into the wet mixture, then quickly pop them into the dry breadcrumb mixture. Ensure you press the coating into both sides of the nuggets. You can cook the vegetarian chicken nuggets in the oven or an air fryer.
  17. AIR FRIED TOFU NUGGETS: Place the mock nuggets in a single layer in the air fryer and give them a light mist with spray oil. Cook at 375°F for ~ 10-12 mins. Check them a few times, and cook the nuggets just long enough to get them to your desired crispness. 
  18. OVEN-BAKED TOFU NUGGETS: Preheat your oven to 400°F. Place nuggets on a lined baking sheet, and spray the tops with oil. Bake the crispy tofu nuggets for ~ 10 mins, then flip and bake another 5-10 mins, or until the baked tofu bites reach your desired crispness.

If your tofu dough seems too dry, add another few tablespoons of water and mix again. The dough should be soft enough to press out into a 12" x18" rectangle.

Chicken tofu nuggets recipe - FAQ

What are vegan chicken nuggets?

Vegan chicken nuggets can be homemade or store-bought, and obviously, they contain no chicken. 

Instead, most vegan chicken nuggets contain seitan - a wheat gluten dough that tastes and feels more like meat than other plant-based proteins. The nuggets take on the chicken flavor from the seitan and the spices, like chicken-flavored vegan bouillon. 

We dredge vegan chicken nuggets through bread crumbs, creating a crispy coating like a classic nugget. 

Are vegan chicken nuggets healthy?

Vegan chicken nuggets aren't particularly bad for you, but they're not what we'd call healthy food, either. They're a vegan indulgence you can enjoy once or twice a week in moderation as part of a regular diet. 

Homemade vegan nuggets are generally much better than the processed vegan nuggets from the grocery store, which can be less nutritious and contain strange chemical ingredients.

Vegan nuggets can be high in carbs between the wheat gluten, tofu, and bread crumb coating, but that isn't bad when consumed in moderation. 

A healthy diet is about balance - if you're eating meat-free nuggets for dinner, pair them with a salad or have an extra nutritious lunch, and you'll be just fine!

How do I store my nuggets?

These nuggets require a bit of prep work, but you can make them in batches and freeze them for super simple dinners. 

If you plan to freeze your nuggets, give them a light bake to barely crisp the outside and then seal in a freezer-safe plastic baggie for up to 3 months. When it's time to reheat, remove them from the freezer and cook as instructed above. 

Once baked, these nuggets are best fresh, but they can be kept in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat the nuggets in the oven or air fryer before serving. 

Do I have to use extra-firm tofu?

Yes! It's essential to use extra-firm tofu for this recipe for the best results. It has the least moisture, so your nuggets will be firm and chewy- not soggy. 

If you're using firm tofu, press it longer in your tofu press and start with less than ½ c. of water that the recipe calls for and slowly add more as you need. 

Are breadcrumbs vegan?

Many store-bought crumbs contain dairy and other animal products. I use vegan panko crumbs, blending them a little finer for this recipe. 

Can I make these gluten-free?

One of the main ingredients is wheat gluten, so it's almost impossible to adjust it to be gluten-free.

Anyway, some vegan chicken nuggets recipes use only tofu for the filling and gluten-free breadcrumbs, but the texture and the flavor will be quite different and much less authentic. 

Final Notes: Breaded tofu nuggets recipes

Once you try these vegan nuggets, they're going to hook you! Try dipping them in all the best classics - a big dollop of ketchup or sinfully sweet plum sauce. 

We hope you enjoy this tasty vegan comfort food indulgence!

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