Vegetables in French: Eat Your Veggies and Practice Your Vocab
Were you one of those kids who fought with your parents about eating your vegetables?
Some nights, you waged war over the Battle of the Brussels Sprouts.
Asparagus was met with asperity.
And the dinner table knew no peace when peas were served.
Now that you’re all grown up and eating your veggies without coaxing or threats, it’s time to take that next big step: Learning your vegetable vocabulary in French.
How Veggie Vocab in French Comes in Handy
French vegetable words will serve you well. You’ll use these wonderful words in the kitchen, at restaurants and beyond.
It’s the recipe for understanding French cuisine
Whether you enjoy French cooking shows on YouTube or want to follow written recipes in French, these words are essential for hands-on cuisine.
Cooking with French recipes written in French is a whole new cultural experience!
It’ll help you navigate any French menu
Vegetables make an appearance throughout the savory sections of French restaurant menus.
Vegetable vocabulary can make it easier to find your favorites on the menu—and save you from unpleasantness on your plate.
For instance, lifelong members of the “I Hate Turnips” club will know to avoid any menu item featuring un navet (turnip).
And since un navet can also be used to describe a terrible film, keeping your ears open for this particular word during the movie portion of the dinner-and-a-movie combo will also help you avoid cinematic disasters.
How to Practice French Vegetable Vocabulary
Learning vegetable words in French doesn’t have to be a tedious chore. Get sizzling with these delectable activities.
Watch French cooking videos on YouTube
YouTube is well-stocked with French-language cooking videos, which are not only entertaining but a great way to improve your French fluency—whether you’re at a beginning, intermediate or advanced level in the language.
Get cooking with vegetables using French recipes
Use online French recipe resources and food blogs to practice French veggie vocabulary:
- Les Foodies is a recipe-sharing site with 5,000+ vegetable recipes to explore.
- Recettes.de aggregates recipes from several recipe sites and food blogs. Like a buffet, it can serve as a sampler that leads you to French-language food blogs you’ll really love.
- Le Figaro magazine online has a Madame Cuisine section, with vegetable-based recipes categorized by type of dish, difficulty level and preparation time.
Play with your food using online games
If you ever got admonished for playing with your food, you might be reluctant to do so now.
But if you do it the right way—by playing food-related word games—you’ll discover that it’s one of the best ways to reinforce your French vegetable vocabulary.
There are plenty of online games to help you learn vegetable words in French. Here are a few to get you started:
- Do a vegetable word search to train your brain to recognize veggie vocab.
- Use this interactive, vegetable-themed hangman game to improve your recall (and practice articles).
- Practice your French spelling with a timed vegetable spelling game.
- Practice with classic language-learning tools like flashcards, concentration and matching games.
Use a combination of these activities to get your veg on in French and you’ll soon be a chef de cuisine (head chef)!
Vegetables in French: Eat Your Veggies and Practice Your Vocab
How does your veggie vocab garden grow?
By planting the seeds to learn about common vegetables and then blossoming into more niche French-cuisine vegetables.
Let’s get cooking with words for vegetables, words related to vegetables and vegetable idioms.
Names for Common Vegetables in French
L’ail (m.) — garlic
Les asperges (f.) — asparagus
La carotte — carrot
Le céleri / une branche de céleri — celery / a stick of celery
Le champignon — mushroom
Le chou — cabbage
Le chou frisé / le chou vert frisé — curly kale
Le concombre — cucumber
L’échalote (f.) — shallot
Les haricots verts (m.) — green beans
La laitue — lettuce (as a plant or an ingredient)
Les feuilles de laitue (f.) are lettuce leaves; a salad as a whole is une salade—which, as in English, can refer to a vegetable-, fruit- or meat-based salad.
Le maïs — corn
Corn on the cob is called le maïs en épi; un épi de maïs is an ear of corn.
L’oignon (m.) — onion
Les petits pois (m.) — green peas
La pomme de terre — potato (literally, “the apple of earth”)
La patate can be used instead, somewhat like “spud” or “tater” in English.
La patate douce — sweet potato
Le poivron — bell pepper
La tomate — tomato
Typical French Vegetables You’ll See on Menus
It’s important to know the basic vegetables listed above.
But if you’re traveling to France, you’ll do well to go a bit deeper and learn some less common vegetables as well as some common varieites:
- Many people in France like to hunt for their own champignons (mushrooms), so it’s not surprising that they have different words for the numerous edible varieties. Some common ones you’ll see on menus are cèpes (King Bolete/Penny Bun), pieds de mouton (Sheep’s Feet) and chanterelles.
- In French, cabbage isn’t just cabbage: there are many varieties of le chou. These include le chou cabus (firm, light-colored cabbage), le chou de Milan (Savoy cabbage), le chou rouge (red cabbage) and le chou chinois (Napa cabbage/Chinese cabbage).
- Le poireau (leek) doesn’t always make its way onto American menus, but it forms the basis for several French dishes. From the French-Belgian border region comes la flamiche, a puff-pastry tart that’s frequently made aux poireaux (with leeks). And just add butter, cream and a few herbs to la soupe de poireaux, a simple blended soup made with leeks, potatoes, bouillon, salt and pepper—and you’ll have la vichyssoise, a famous French leek soup that’s often served cold.
- Le fenouil (fennel) enjoys modest popularity in France, with preparations like le gratin de fenouil et de pommes de terre (a fennel-and-potato casserole topped with melted gruyère cheese).
Famous French Vegetable Concoctions
Many of these are well-known outside of their native France.
- La mirepoix (sometimes rendered le mirepoix) consists of uniformly chopped vegetables—typically, onions, carrots and celery—that serve as the cooked aromatic basis for many soups and other savory dishes. Mirepoix also refers to a common vegetable cut in French cooking.
- La ratatouille is rustic stewed vegetable dish from Nice, served as a main course. A victim of its own cinematic fame, the word ratatouille ends with a tricky semi-vowel (-ouill) that’s often mispronounced. Stick with the dictionary pronunciation, and you’ll do fine.
- La soupe au pistou—a hearty soup made with stewed vegetables, basil, garlic, pasta and beans—contrasts with smooth and silky potage de légumes (m.), a purée of root vegetables, onions, garlic, celery and other vegetables, sometimes prepared with butter and cream.
- Iconic soupe à l’oignon gratinée—“French onion soup”—is made with caramelized onions, topped with a hunk of bread. Grated cheese gets sprinkled on top and broiled.
- Le mesclun (baby lettuce mix) was the brainchild of the impoverished Franciscan monks of Nice’s Cimiez monastery. It usually includes la mâche (lamb’s lettuce), la trévise (radicchio), le pourpier (purslane) and le pissenlit (dandelion).
- Le mesclun is the foundation for la salade niçoise. Somewhat similar to its American cousin, the Chef salad, la salade niçoise favors tuna, anchovies, olives and haricots verts (green beans) over cheese, poultry and red meat.
And just remember: When you’ve got les crudités (f.)—a selection of raw vegetables—and your favorite dip, you’ve got a party!
Terms that Hang Out with French Vegetables
Used in conjunction with the French names for various vegetables, these related terms deepen your understanding of the world of green cuisine.
Biologique and not organique
While organique is indeed a legitimate French word that does mean “organic” in English, it’s used in contexts like la chimie organique (organic chemistry) or la loi organique (organic law).
Instead of organique, use biologique—often shortened to bio—when you’re searching for vegetables grown without synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.
Varieties of végétarien
You may have seen some of these terms used as recipe tags.
végétarien — vegetarian (generic, with the variations below)
lacto-ovo-végétarien — ovo-lacto-vegetarian (vegetarian with the addition of dairy and eggs)
lacto-végétarien / lactovégétarien — vegetarian with dairy, but not eggs
ovo-végétarien / ovovégétarien — vegetarian with eggs, but not dairy
végétalien — vegan (100% plant-based; no exceptions)
Common French Vegetable Expressions
Vegetables have made their way not only into French cuisine, but French slang, as well.
Famished? Feast on these French fruit and vegetable idioms by the bushel! Or if you’re just peckish, nibble on a few yummy, plant-based idioms:
Un asperge — literally, “an asparagus”; figuratively, a “stringbean” or a “beanpole” (a very tall and thin person)
Raconter des salades — literally, “to tell (tales about) salads”; figuratively, to tell tales; to make up stories
Avoir du blé — literally, “to have wheat”; figuratively, to have money/lots of dough
Avoir la patate — literally, “to have the potato”; figuratively, to be full of energy
This couldn’t be farther from the American English concept of “couch potato.” Picture a lethargic couch potato donning the proverbial béret, springing off the sofa and bouncing with energy—quite a transformation!
But watch out: “Elle a la patate” means “She has a lot of energy.” On the other hand, saying “Elle est une patate” indicates that the subject is a fathead, an idiot or a chump. Knowing when to use avoir (to have) and when to use être (to be) is really important here.
C’est chou vert et vert chou — literally, “It’s green cabbage and cabbage green”
This one is used primarily in Belgian French, similarly to the way bonnet blanc et blanc bonnet (white hat and hat white) is used in France.
In English, we’d use a phrase like “same difference” or “it’s all the same to me” to express this concept.
S’occuper de ses oignons — literally, “to mind one’s own onions”; figuratively, to mind one’s own business
A variation of this is c’(n)est pas tes oignons (“it’s not your onions”), which you can use in a similar manner to “none of your business/beeswax.”
La carotte et le bâton — literally, “the carrot and the stick”
As in English, this means using a combination of enticement and threats to motivate someone.
Mettre du piment — literally, “to put in some red chili pepper”; figuratively, “to spice (something) up”
Now you know the power of “going green” with the veggie vocab of French cuisine.
You’ll be able to order confidently in French restaurants and conquer the vegetable kingdom in your own kitchen.
Et ce n’est pas la fin des haricots (and that’s not all)—you’ll also learn to express yourself with flavorful vegetable slang.
So, learn your vegetable vocabulary in French. It’s good for you.
Michelle Baumgartner is a language nerd who has formally studied seven languages and informally dabbled in at least three others. In addition to geeking out over slender vowels, interrogative particles, and phonemes, Michelle is a freelance content writer and education blogger. Find out more at stellawriting.com.