French cuisine might sound intimidating. It often looks elegant and is the cuisine by which all culinary techniques are measured. There are, however, some misconceptions about French food. The idea that this cuisine is all heavy is not true. In a typical French meal, dishes that are heavy like rich desserts are usually balanced with lighter dishes such as simple fruit. Many French dishes are made mostly from regional products including fresh fruits and veggies.
Another misconception is that French cooking is hard, and you would have to go to culinary school to master it. The truth is that while French food can be fancy, you don’t have to be Julia Child to create delicious, plant-based French food right in your own kitchen. That’s right, we can swap out all the cream, butter, and cheese with vegan versions and make the healthiest, most delicious French cuisine. Here are some tips on how to veganize French dishes.
1. Hors d’Oeuvres
The first course of French meals is usually simple, made with butter, fresh herbs, mustards, and vinegars. And of course, cheese. Let’s see how to make vegan versions of classic appetizers. In France, they serve savory vegetable tarts made with buttery, flaky pie crusts. Olive oil, coconut oil or vegan butter can be used in place of dairy butter to achieve the same flaky crusts. Try this beautiful Rustic Pesto and Heirloom Tomato Tart, Sun-Dried Tomato and Zucchini Tarts, and this Asparagus Tart.
Chicken liver paté, or foie gras, may be a delicacy to some, but plant-based versions can be just as (if not way more) amazing. Instead, make this Mushroom Walnut Paté, Portobello Pâté, and this Carrot Cashew Paté. French cheese fondue is also a classic appetizer; now you can dip your crudité into a dairy-free version like this Creamy and Cheesy Nut-Free Chickpea Fondue made with healthy garbanzo beans.
French soups can be clear broths, bouillon, and consommé, or thick and hearty soups that are thickened with starches, creams, béchamel sauce, combination of eggs, butter and cream, rice, or flour. One of the most popular soups is probably French onion soup that is topped with lots of cheese and buttery toast. Make vegan versions by using vegan butter and cheese like this Fantastic French Onion Soup and this Soothing Vegan French Onion Soup. Other vegan versions of classic French soups include this Cream of Pumpkin and Apple Soup, Creamy Cashew, and Chestnut Soup, and Classic Vegetable Soup.
Salads are eaten all over France as a starter, a main meal and even as part of your main course. Salads can be prepared in endless ways with a variety of greens, lentils, fruits, and many types of dressing. This Green Lentil Salad with Spiced Carrots is based on a classic French salad. Nicoise salad is usually made with tuna, but this Vegan Nicoise Salad with Avocado is made with canned vegan “tuna.”
Forget the egg-filled mayo! This French Inspired Creamy Lentil Potato Salad has a cashew-based dressing and other delicious vegan-friendly French elements such as spicy Dijon mustard, pebbly Puy lentils, crisp radishes, shallots, blanched asparagus, and fleur de sel.
I don’t know if the French invented brunch, but they did invent so many of the delicious brunch foods we like to indulge in. Many of those dishes are traditionally made with eggs, butter and cheese. Sometimes it’s a good thing to break tradition, though, isn’t it? Check out Who Needs Eggs? Here’s How to Make Vegan Omelets, Frittatas, Quiches and Crepes to see how easy it is to make all these favorites without eggs.
Then make these Maca, Almond and Orange French Crepes and these Pancrêpes made with buckwheat and brown rice flour and topped with a creamy coconut butter sauce. Speaking of sauces, hollandaise sauce is a classic made with lots of butter and typically drizzled over asparagus and eggs Benedict. This Eggs Benny and Flo — Vegan Benedict meets Eggs Florentine has a sauce made from vegan butter as does this Portobello Florentine with Lemony Hollandaise Sauce. For a lighter version, try these Asparagus Tofu Tartines with Light Hollandaise Sauce.
5. Meaty Dishes
Meats of all kinds are used in classic French dishes but with a little creativity, all kinds of vegetables can be made in their place. The most classic French meat dish has to be Beouf Bourguignon, which is basically a stew with meat braised in wine. This Vegan Mushroom Bourguignon uses mushrooms instead of beef while this Bœuf Bourguignon Végétalien uses mushrooms and tofu.
Coq au Vin, which means “cockerel in red wine, ” is another traditional French recipe. This Betty Crocker Coq au Vin uses seitan and vegan bacon as well as earthy mushrooms for a similar dish without the chicken. Steak may be international but when there’s a classic French sauce on top, then it becomes French too. Beurre blanc sauce is usually made with tons of butter, but this Seitan Steak with Beurre Blanc Sauce uses vegan butter as well as fresh parsley and fennel fronds.
The French take baking bread very seriously. Learn How to Make Vegan French Baguettes – the perfect French bread. Also check out Whole Wheat French Bread – a Step by Step Guide and if you need it to be gluten-free, try this recipe for Ooh La La French Bread. Once you have the bread, you need to have butter and cheese to spread on it. Make this Homemade Vegan Butter that’s palm oil- and soy-free.
The French eat more cheese – an average of 45 pounds per person – than any other country in the world. Every region of France has its own particular cheeses for a total of hundreds of types of cheese. Get ready for a cheese course (no pun intended). French cheeses can be divided into three main types: pressed cheeses, soft cheeses and blue cheeses that are made from the milk of cows, goats and sheep. Some of the most well-known French cheeses are brie, chèvre, boursin, and bleu.
More than ever, people are making their own vegan cheese at home; just look at these 20 Amazing Cheeses You Can Make at Home. For a vegan version of brie, make this Vegan Macadamia Nut Brie en Croute. The cheese is topped with a delicious maple cranberry sauce. These Carrot Flatbreads With Coconut ‘Chèvre’ has a vegan cheese made with coconut and added probiotics which give it an authentic tang. Herbed boursin can be made vegan with this Roasted Garlic and Fresh Herb Cream Cheez, which is creamy, garlicky, and irresistible smeared on crackers or toasted bagels. Finally, this Blue Cheez Dressing is rich and perfect for salads, sandwiches or dipping.
8. Vegetable Dishes
French cuisine relies on many regional ingredients including fresh produce. Southern France includes many Mediterranean ingredients such as tomatoes and olives while Northern France gets many ingredients from farms. One classic French vegetable dish is “Tomates à la Provençale” which is a traditional recipe from Provence. These Tomatoes Provençal are simple, flavorful, and delicious. Haricot verts are thin green beans that are cooked with thyme and butter sauces. These Easy and Delicious Rosemary String Beans are a yummy version.
My Ratatouille Stew is a big pot of eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, and bell peppers cooked in a rich garlicky tomato sauce with a salty and tangy kick from red pepper flakes, capers, and green olives. Chickpeas add a crunchy texture to the stew. This Ratatouille Fideo Fusion mixes traditional Spanish toasted noodles dish and French ratatouille. Gratin dishes, a specialty of the Dauphiné region of France, are typically made with thinly sliced and layered potatoes and cream, cooked in a buttered dish rubbed with garlic. We can make rich and creamy gratins without any of that cream and butter. Check out these 10 Vegan Gratin Recipes That Make a Hearty Dinner for recipes like this Cheesy Leek and Potato Gratin and Root Veggie au Gratin.
We finally reach the part many of you have been waiting for: the desserts. The French do amazing things with butter, cream, pastries, and chocolate. Think crème brûlée, pots de crème, cream puffs, crème caramel, flaky pastries, madeleines, and macarons. Hungry yet? Good, let’s make these desserts vegan. One way to ease the guilt of indulging in a rich dessert is to skip dinner – but a better way is to make vegan versions of French desserts. Not only will they be lighter but they’ll be healthier without sacrificing any of the taste.
Crème brûlée, also known as burnt cream, is a dessert consisting of a rich custard base topped with a layer of hard caramel. This Vegan Crème Brûlée is simple to make as are these Grapefruit Creme Brûlée made with cashews and Pistachio Creme Brûlée – Vegan Style. Pot de crème is a loose French dessert custard. This vegan Pots de Crème and this Healthy Mocha Pots de Crème are both made with silken tofu.
When I was a kid, I used to love cream puffs. Now I can have them in this amazing vegan version – Love Cream Puffs? Learn How to Make Choux Pastry. Choux pastry is typically made out of a dough butter, milk, flour, sugar, and eggs. The magic of aquafaba lets you make beautiful egg- and dairy-free choux pastries that you can use to fulfill all your French pastry dreams. Aquafaba is also the magic behind making Vegan Meringue and macarons. These Raspberry Rose Macarons, Raspberry and Elderflower Macarons, and Mango Macarons are all possible thanks to chickpea brine. Another favorite French cookie are madeleines. For a vegan version, try these Vanilla Madeleines With Chocolate and Pistachio Ganache. If you just need a fix of rich, light, creamy chocolate, I suggest this Chocolate Mousse Tower with Raspberry Coulis. Yum!
Whether you’re new to French cuisine or are working your way through “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” these vegan versions are a delicious way to explore French food – plant-based style!
Lead image source: Grapefruit Creme Brûlée