The $100 Cuisinart AirFryer makes crispy vegetables without additional oil - I ate fried veggies for a week and didn't notice a difference in taste or texture
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- Frying foods in oil adds texture and flavor, but also adds fat and unnecessary calories.
- Air frying eliminates the need for oil and ultimately, the extra fat and calories, but also adds a crispy texture by using hot air and convection.
- I used the Cuisinart AFR-25 Compact AirFryer (currently $98.99 from Amazon) on a weeks' worth of vegetables to see if I could get the texture of traditionally fried veggies without the extra oil saturation. I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of use, shorter cooking times, and of course, delicious results.
Everyone loves a heaping pile of fried onion rings, fried chicken, and even fried veggies, but it's no secret how unhealthy it is to eat food drenched in fatty oils and unwanted calories. What are we supposed to do though - never enjoy the crunch of a crisp French fry or taste of breaded chicken sandwich? That's absurd.
I prep my dinners every Sunday in an effort to stay out of my tiny kitchen (and out of the way of my three roommates) and make my evening dinners run smoother. Personally, I love roasting vegetables in the oven to achieve a crunchy, crispy texture, but the only way I can do that is to toss them in olive oil. And although olive oil contains healthy fat (monounsaturated fatty acids), I'm guilty of a heavy pour and don't always feel the best after eating my supposedly healthy foods drenched in oil. In an effort to make better choices and stop soaking my food - especially my veggies - in oil, I decided to try air frying with the Cuisinart AFR-25 Compact AirFryer (currently $98.99 from Amazon).
What is air frying?
Air frying isn't the newest trend in the kitchen world and I know a lot of people who have wonderful things to say about it, but it's totally new to me and I've never tried out the technique myself.
According to The Kitchn, an air fryer works similarly to that of a convection oven. An air fryer will use a heating element and a fan to move air very quickly in a circular-motion around the food you're "frying." This quick movement of air works its way around all sides of the food to not only cook thoroughly, but create a crispy edge.
But there are several features that make them totally different than your regular oven, which surrounds your food with hot air but doesn't circulate the air inside the unit. First, air fryers usually contain a standard frying basket. This perforated surface is key to ensuring your food is in constant contact with the swirling hot air. Second, air fryers are much smaller than a typical oven which helps intensify the direct cooking and crisping process. Third, due to the high speed of circulation paired with the smaller cooking space, air fryers can cook food in a shorter amount of time.
It should be noted that air frying is not the same as frying with oil - for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. By definition, frying requires a pan, heat, and fat, but with an air fryer, all you need is heat. It won't give you the flavor that vegetable or other oils can, but it will give you that crispy, crunchy texture that's achieved via oil frying.
Cuisinart AirFryer specs
The Cuisinart AFR-25 Compact AirFryer is small in size and weight, measuring 12 inches long, 11.75 inches wide, and 11.5 inches tall, and weighs 15.4 pounds. The unit itself is compact but can fit a large capacity and is capable of air frying up to 2.5 pounds of food at a time.
The exterior of the unit is made from brushed stainless steel with an entry door that has a viewing window, and two knobs for simplicity and ease of use. One control sets the cooking temperature (which goes from warm to 450 degrees Fahrenheit) and the other sets the cooking time (zero to 60 minutes). In addition, the timer "dings" to indicate that cooking is complete. The rear of the unit has an exhaust vent that releases a portion of the circulating hot air to help regulate the temperature inside the air fryer, and is also where the power cord is located.
The interior of the Cuisinart AFR-25 Compact AirFryer is made of nonstick stainless steel for quick cleaning. It also houses the motor fan and heater (which is what makes the magic happen). The unit comes with a frying basket and drip pan, which can also be used as a baking pan.
What I cooked
So like I mentioned previously, I meal prep on Sundays and mass-roast vegetables and sides to accompany my main meal. That means I cook things like asparagus, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and zucchini every week, and with a lot of oil. This past weekend, I decided to air fry a weeks' worth of sweet potatoes, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts to see if I could achieve the same texture and satisfaction without using oil.
The Cuisinart AFR-25 Compact AirFryer fit perfectly on our peninsula counter and gave me plenty of room to cut veggies directly in front of the unit, which saved me from having to move from one small patch of counter space to another.
The manual came with a small cookbook filled with recipes. As I read through them, I noticed the company recommended using an olive oil spray to coat the frying basket prior to adding your food. Most of the recipes also give you the option to drizzle about half of a tablespoon of olive oil on your food, but since I was trying to cook oil-free, I opted not to.
From there, all I had to do was refer to the recipes for cooking temperatures and times and season my veggies as I pleased (my go-to is salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder). The one thing I found tricky was that the seasonings had nothing to stick to since I didn't use oil, so a good portion of my precious garlic powder fell onto the drip pan below. Because of this, I decided to line the drip pan with aluminum foil for easy cleanup later.
After that, I went ahead with the actual air frying. I was happy to learn that instead of needing to cook my sweet potatoes for 20 to 25 minutes, they were done in 15 minutes. As I made more veggies, the AirFryer helped me shave off about 10 minutes of cooking time for each batch.
After each ding, when I'd pull out the pan/basket to see my fully cooked veggies, I'd noticed that browning favored one side of my food because I didn't shake the basket halfway through cooking, which is something I plan to do next week. The little bit of spray I used kept everything from sticking too, which I was happy about when it came time for cleaning.
So what did everything taste like? Each vegetable I made had a crispy exterior with a soft interior. The tips of my asparagus crunched the same like a potato chip without feeling like they were dried out and fragile. Similarly, both the sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts were crispy on the outside and moist on the inside.
Like I mentioned before, it was obvious that I didn't use oil to prepare these veggies like I have done in the past. They lacked that saturated texture and oil taste, but that didn't correlate to a lack of flavor at all. Instead of feeling and tasting heavy with oil, my vegetables tasted light and airy - the way healthy food should.
Overall, the Cuisinart AFR-25 Compact AirFryer was straightforward to use, helped me cut down on cooking time, and was easy to clean. Air frying also helped me achieve a non-oily taste without compromising on satisfaction and flavor.
Now that I have healthy fried veggies down, I fully plan to use my Cuisinart Compact AirFryer for a healthy spin on grilled cheese, onion rings, and fried chicken.
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