For those cooks who are always the first to try every new cooking appliance that comes on the market, the air fryer is probably old news as it was first introduced about 10 years ago. But it wasn’t until I was looking for a simple and easy way to roast and grill vegetables in the sweltering heat of summer without turning my kitchen into a sauna did I venture into the wonderful world of the air fryer. Simply put: I am not only completely obsessed with my air fryer for roasting and grilling vegetables, I am now in a solid, long-term committed relationship with it.
I must confess a tendency to purchase new kitchen gadgets only to be so intimidated or overwhelmed by them that they live in a cupboard and are rarely used. I was determined not to let that happen with my air fryer, so I intentionally purchased a purple one that would be colorful and eye-catching as it stayed on my kitchen counter.
After reading the instructions and doing some highly technical internet research in the form of poking around Pinterest, I decided to start with something so basic that I couldn’t possibly mess things up: frozen tater tots. The cooking technique for these are fairly straightforward: open the bag and dump tater tots in a single layer. Turn the air fryer on for 9 minutes at 400 F and then enjoy piping hot, perfectly crispy, golden brown nuggets of potato joy. Frozen cauliflower tots, sweet potato fries, and any other frozen convenience food can also be prepared this way. Soggy leftover tempura vegetables and French fries can be resurrected quickly by an air fryer.
But why not use a regular oven to roast vegetables instead of an air fryer? As noted above, the oven tends to really heat up a kitchen during the warm months of the year. Also, a conventional oven uses a lot more electricity and it takes a lot more time to roast vegetables. Using an air fryer is energy efficient, cooler, and quicker. Don’t let the name air fryer fool you—the air fryer is really a compact convection oven that cooks food using circulated superheated air using a phenomenon called the Maillard Effect. This is what gives roasted and grilled food that amazing smell and flavor.
I quickly discovered that most vegetables cooked the air fryer fell into one of two categories: quicker-cooking vegetables that came out with a wonderful grilled flavor and texture and slower-cooking vegetables (like potatoes, beets, winter squashes) that came out roasted and toasted just as if you used your regular oven (and took longer time.) Once I’d mastered the air fryer secrets to all of the “regular” vegetables I was used to eating, I ventured out to vegetables I’d never tried cooking before. Chayote squash—popular in Latin and Central American cooking—are a fairly common avocado-sized light green squash I’d seen in the store, so I started with those. Their flavor is a delightful combination of zucchini and cucumber and I love them grilled with avocado oil and some Za’atar seasoning.
Next up was Chinese eggplant, to which I added some balsamic vinegar and smoked paprika salt before roasting—it has seriously made me love eggplant like I’ve never loved it before. I tried the same seasonings with Indian eggplant and the regular supermarket variety and now I’m a dedicated eggplant fan. Jicama fries seasoned with chili, lime and salt were a revelation for even my husband. who is not as fond of vegetables as I am. He ate the entire batch while standing at the kitchen counter. Finally, I ventured out to a local Asian supermarket to purchase lotus roots, which are tasty and delightful when seasoned with anything from white miso to balsamic vinegar to chili lime seasoning.
I now regularly scoop up new vegetables at local farmer’s markets and specialty stores just to see how they do in the air fryer. No matter what type of vegetable is being cooked in the air fryer, the preparation is simple. Scrub, peel and slice or chop the vegetables to their desired shape. For most vegetables, I leave the skin on for the added fiber, flavor and nutrients. Unless you prefer to go oil-free for health reasons, I recommend using olive oil, avocado oil or another oil that does well at high heats of 350 to 400 F. You can either drizzle and toss your vegetables in the oil, or spritz some on using an oil spritzer (or purchase oil in a ready-to-spritz form). Season your vegetables as desired with anything from salt and pepper to minced garlic to a miso glaze or even balsamic vinegar. Any seasonings that one would normally use to season veggies for regular oven roasting or even outside grilling work well and don’t hesitate to try new combinations and spice blends. For quicker-cooking fruits vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms, cabbage steaks, summer squashes, eggplant, tomatoes, peaches, apples, pineapple), I find that 400 Fand 12 to 15 minutes does the trick.
Many people flip or stir at the halfway point—just be careful because the air fryer basket is a very hot surface. A good pair of silicone tongs or other utensils is a worthwhile investment. When your vegetable slices are larger or you have a higher quantity, you should expect a slightly longer cooking time. For slower cooking vegetables like winter squashes, potatoes, beets, turnips, parsnips and carrots, the cooking time is almost always longer and I prefer to roast them at 380 F. Whole sweet potatoes and whole onions, for example, can be spritzed and then roasted together in the air fryer for 30 minutes at 380 F. (Fun cooking note: if you spritz oil on a purple onion and leave the skin on while cooking, your whole onion turns a beautiful shade of purple that is very attractive in dishes.)
No discussion of air fryers would be complete without this important cooking hack: Purchase some bamboo parchment paper air fryer liners (with ventilation holes) and use them to make cleanup quicker and easier. These are FDA-approved and heat-resistant to 450 F and they are great for catching oozes, drips, and glazes that slowly make their way off your vegetables and onto the fryer surface. Amazon carries a wide variety as do most cooking supply stores. I also recommend a good pair of heat-resistant spatulas and tongs so you can flip, turn, and adjust your vegetables mid-cooking (I opt for silicone).
If you will be grilling meats in your air fryer, be sure and get a good meat thermometer to ensure safe cooking temperatures. When selecting an air fryer (if you don’t already have one), my best recommendation is to select one within your budget, that will look nice on your counter, and one that has a window so you can keep an eye on your roasting vegetables while they cook.