The French tradition of having long dinners means that you need a way to break up the meal. Thus was born the “entrée, plat, dessert” (starter, main, dessert).
Eating slowly, gradually building up the flavors, and tantalizing the tastebuds, all the while enjoying the company of family and friends. This is what we like to think French dining is all about. (On the other hand, it could just be a way to get everyone to eat small portions of everything and finish their plate, for all those picky eaters out there!)
So to get that your dinner off to a flying start, here are some wonderful classic French starters, that will leave you wanting more. Allons-y!
1. French Onion Soup
The French onion soup should perhaps be called the Royal French onion soup, since it became famous after being served to French King Louis XV (by ex-Polish King Stanislas Leszczynski).
Caramelized onions in a broth, topped with a sumptuous amount of cheese, this dish is truly fit for a (French) king. Get the recipe for French onion soup here.
Wine: Alsace Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris.
Suggestion for Main dish: Large salad or a spinach quiche.
2. Provençale Tomatoes
Tangy sweet tomatoes, sprinkled with oil and crispy breadcrumbs, it doesn’t get more exquisite than this. Provencal Tomatoes, or tomates à la provençale in French, is a typical French summer starter in the Provence region of France. Get the recipe for tomates à la provençale here.
Wine: Bouches-du-Rhone rosé or Aix-en-Provence rosé.
Suggestion for Main dish: Lamb roast
Escargot is one of those classic French delicacies that foreigners always have doubts about. Until they try it that is. Drenched in herbed garlic butter, these little pieces of meat so delicious, you will mop them up with your baguette. Learn how to eat escargot here.
Wine: White from Burgundy such as Pouilly Fuissé Blanc or Bourgogne Aligoté Blanc.
Suggestion for Main dish: Coq au vin
4. Coquilles St Jacques in pesto (Gluten-free)
Coquilles St Jacques (scallops in English) is named after the pilgrims of Saint Jacques de Compostela who crisscrossed France and Spain with the seashells around their neck.
Light and delicate, they can be served in a tart pesto sauce. Get the recipe for coquilles st. jacques in pesto sauce here.
Suggestion for Main dish: Mushroom risotto
5. Salmon Tartare (Gluten-free)
The delicate taste of fresh wild salmon accompanied with a light touch of lemon and that little something extra to push it over the top. If you don’t eat fish, try a tomato tartare instead.
If you are looking for a traditional French starter that is easy to put together, it doesn’t get any better than this. Get the recipe for salmon tartare here.
Wine: Alsace Reisling or Pinot Blanc
Suggestion for Main dish: Coq au vin or Potatoes au Gratin
6. Melon au Porto (Gluten-free)
A lovely ripe melon, topped off with a decadent porto, the perfect no-cook meal for a hot and sunny day. It may look complicated to make, but with no cooking involved, you will be able to whip up this classic French starter in a snap. Get the recipe for Melon au porto here.
Suggestion for Main dish: Chicken provençale
7. Lyonnaise Quenelles in Cream Sauce
Quenelles are a traditional mixture of dough, cream, egg yolk, and and sometimes pike fish. The recipe comes from the French city of Lyon, which is considered the gastronomical capital of France.
The quenelle is a sausage-shaped pastry that is cooked in a creamy sauce, and can be served as an appetizer or as a main. Get the recipe for quenelles here.
Wine: Beaujolais Nouveau
Suggestion for Main dish: Cassoulet
8. Creamy Coquilles St. Jacques en Gratin
Another way to serve scallops is cooked in a creamy sauce, drenched in cheese and sprinkled with breadcrumbs. Get the recipe for creamy coquilles st . jacques here.
Wine: Pouilly Fumé from Loire
Suggestion for Main dish: Salad Niçoise
9. Stuffed Zucchini boats with cheese (French recipe)
Stuffed zucchini boats with cheese, otherwise known as Courgette farcie à la brousse in French, are the perfect starter to any meal. They’re low in calories, with a good helping of vegetables for the pickiest eater.
You can make them with French brousse cheese which comes from Provence, or its Italian cousin, ricotta. Get the recipe for stuffed zucchini boats here.
Suggestion for Main dish: Oven-baked chicken or rôti de boeuf (beef). For a lighter meal, you can also serve it with a salad and some baguette, or rice to make a meal out of it.
Wine: Light white wine like a Languedoc Blanc or Côte du Rhône Blanc.
10. Baked Camembert
Camembert is a soft creamy cheese that comes from the Normandy region of France. It is similar to Brie cheese, which comes from the old Brie region (now Seine et Marne) of France.
Baked camembert cheese is as easy as it sounds. It comes in a wooden box, so simply open the wooden box and take off the plastic wrap and cook in the oven for 15 minutes. You can add sweet toppings such as honey or fig jam, or savory ones like pesto and chili flakes. Get the recipe for baked camembert here.
Wine: Sparkling wine like the crémants from the Loire Valley, or if the budget allows, champagne.
Suggestion for Main dish: Savory crêpes
11. French Zucchini Flan Recipe (Gluten-free)
Flan de courgettes, otherwise known as zucchini flan, is one of those easy recipes that is a classic in French homes.
It’s usually served as astarter, but it can also be a main dish if you cut it into small pieces. In a baking mold, it is easy to serve at dinner parties where guests can enjoy individual portions. Get the recipe for flan courgettes here.
Wine: Red wine like a Côtes du Rhone or a Beaujolais.
Suggestions for Main dish: Pork chops or oven-baked chicken
☞ READ MORE: ABC of French Cuisine (the Food Dictionary)
12. Egg in aspic
Egg in aspic is a delicate French starter where gelatin is used to cover a poached eggs, along with ham and other ingredients. It is an old traditional recipe that does take some skill to pull off properly. It is still quite popular however, with an abundance of flavors all coming together in this delightful entrée.
Wine: White wine from Bourgogne.
Suggestions for Main dish: Boeuf pot au feu
13. Périgord salad
The Périgord in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region of of France is noted for its cuisine, especially its duck and goose specialities such as confit de canard and foie gras.
With duck being so popular in this part of western France, it stands to reason that one of its namesake dishes is the salade périgordine featuring the duck. (The department next door has a similar salad called the salade Landaise originating from the Landes area which is also famous for its duck specialities.)
And it is duck gizzards, which is basically cooked and preserved duck giblets, that are prominently featured in the salade périgordine. Get the recipe for salade périgordine here.
Wine: Red wine like Cahors or Bergerac to keep with the local Perigord theme.
Suggestions for Main dish: Pasta carbonara or a French onion risotto.
So what will you be serving for dinner tonight? If you enjoyed that, check out our other classic French recipes that are easy to prepare. Bon appétit and à bientôt !