Garden Companions and a Lemony Salad

Foraging Spot, De Bretten, Netherlands

Pretend it’s a Salad!

Well, it has been a little while since I posted, which I blame on having broken my camera. It also means that I am about to do something that you should never do on a food blog, and that is publish a post without a photo of the food. I did have a corker to share, but it is lost, so you will have to wait until next I make this recipe. In the meantime, please enjoy the view from one of my favourite foraging spots, complete with convenient resting place for my containers.

In this area, people have also planted a guerilla garden. It has been here as long as I have been coming, and probably longer. You may be able to make out Jerusalem artichoke in the picture, and there are potatoes, pumpkins and corn at various times of the year. There is also a lot of mint, which I think was planted initially, but the conditions in the Netherlands are perfect for this herb, and now it is running rampant.

I may have mentioned that we are trying to eat healthily but with all the flavour, and one of the salads that really fits the bill is fattoush. This is a Lebanese salad that uses sumac and lemon to give a really zingy dressing. I have been buying sumac, but I’m delighted to learn that you can actually forage for this plant. It is a native of North America, but apparently it has been a popular garden and municipal plant in the UK. I shall be looking out for it here too.

Despite trying conditions for many of our crops this year, our herbs have gone crazy. So, I didn’t need to forage the mint for this recipe, but at least I’d have known where to go. I don’t take any of the other plants in the guerilla garden, because they are clearly loved and cared for, but there is enough mint here to keep Cuba in mojitos for a decade.

I am also proud to say that this salad contained my first ever Little Gem lettuce.

Since my course back in March, I have been trying to garden according to permaculture principles.  Part of this is that you try to avoid bare soil in an effort to preserve the soil microbiology, take advantage of microclimates, and to prevent the army of local cats from pooing near your veg.

OK, that last one is more a principle of mine, since they used to see our dug over soil as a litter box, little*ahem* darlings. But it does adhere to the principles of  using and valuing diversity, letting a problem become the solution, and (literally) reducing waste 🙂

Based on companion planting charts that are widely available on the internet, I decided to underplant my asparagus with lettuces, marigolds, and chicory. These included red velvet, a leaf lettuce called “Australian Yellow”, a mixed salad, and the aforementioned Little Gems. Most of them have done well, apart from the red velvet. I think this is because a cat got to the spot that night I planted the seed.

So with parsley and mint in abundance and Little Gems and radish doing well, garden fattoush was the salad of choice. A lot of flavour, with the potential of foraging. Could you ask more from a salad?

I’d be really interested in hearing about other people’s efforts at companion planting. Do you have any particular favourites that grow well, or help against pests? Please do share them in the comments.

Recipe: Fattoush Salad


2 pita breads, diced

1 tsp oil for frying

2 Spring onions (or more if really like them), finely sliced

Zest and juice of one lemon

3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp sumac

200 g cherry tomatoes (or baby plums), halved

½ cucumber, chopped into large dice

small bunch radishes; roots quartered lengthways, and smaller leaves

2-3 Little Gem lettuces, leaves only, chopped in half

Large handful of flat leaf parsley, leaves whole and stalks finely chopped

Smaller handful of mint, leaves only, roughly chopped


In a frying pan, heat a little oil until it is quite hot. Fry the diced pita breads until they are golden. You will need to stir them occasionally. Drain onto kitchen paper.

While the bread is frying, mix together the lemon juice and zest, the good olive oil, the sumac and the spring onion. Leave aside for a  few minutes to take the raw edge off the onion.

Combine the tomatoes, cucumber, salad leaves, herbs and the radish roots and leaves in a large bowl. Dress the salad with the dressing, and toss well.

Add the pita bread, stir briefly, and serve immediately.

Sounds appetising, doesn’t it? I’m sure you can picture this one without a photo.





Filed under Farmed

19 responses to “Garden Companions and a Lemony Salad

  1. I love this concept of ‘guerilla garden’! NO DIGGING. I’m obssesed with fresh herbs, and I also add them to my salad…I’ve never fried pita, I should give it a go.

    • I love it too. I have never met the gardener, but it made me so happy when I found it. I am only taking my first tentative steps towards a no-dig garden, but it has already been paying off.

      Pita can go stale pretty quickly, so this is also an excellent recipe to use it up.

  2. Yum, one of my favourite salads, how nice to have a real recipe instead of making it up from memory! I usually just toast the pita breads until crisp and fragile, (or let them go really stale which doesn’t take long if they are out of the packet), and then crumble them a bit. I have had fried pita bread in fatoush too, and it’s nice – but – hey! – I have to maintain my super-model figure.

    Tonight I am finally making your ‘Suisse’ desert, and looking forward to it. The Perfect Boyfriend received one of those soda-siphon-type whipped cream makers for his birthday, and it will be used for the event.

    Years ago I borrowed one of these devices from a glamorous Italian friend, when living in Toronto. After I’d had it a week she phoned and said; “Daaaaaaahling, can I please have it back? My sex life just isn’t the same without it”. I’m sure she was referring to the seductive powers of tiramasu……

    • Hello Jo.

      Toasting would be a great, and lower fat option for the pita. It’s funny how they go stale if you even think about leaving a corner of one pointing out of the bag, isn’t it?

      I love your story about your Italian friend. I would have given it back swiftly and tried hard not to think about the dessert I had made for the mother in law 🙂

      At the moment, I am swimming in elderberries. I am not going to make jam, but am coming up with innovative syrups and other dishes. Happy to collaborate with some of those, if you like? May have also found quinces, and I have some rosehips, so jam is still not out of the question, despite how dismal the blackberries are.

  3. I’m another fattoush fan and I also toast my pitta bread! I just pop them in the toaster and break them after. Leftover flat bread works too – let it stale if you can, or pop it under the grill on your oven.

  4. On Serendipity farm we have had to remove an incredible amount of vegetation from 20 years of neglect. Dad WASN’T a gardener by anybodies measure and when you expose the soil you are opening yourself up to massive weed infestation. As penniless horticultural student hippies (and old ones at that ;)) we have been challenged with how to deal with our garden waste that we generate. We don’t own a working mulcher and hiring one is out of the question at the moment so we are allowing the piles to lay on the bare ground so our coming (promised hot and dry) summer won’t damage our fragile ancient topsoil. We have decided to build 3 poly tunnels to extend our temperate growing season here and are bartering for most of what we need. we have managed to isolate a source of spent horse bedding material for building up our polytunnel beds and a large roll of polypipe for our first tunnel. When you deal in barter you find some very interesting swaps I can tell you! One mans trash is indeed another peniless hippies treasure! Love fattoush and as we are rocketing into summer in Australia it will be a staple here on Serendipity Farm. I can make the pita myself so its just tossing it with home grown goodies and revelling in the seasonality of it. Cheers for another fantastic post. We are letting our nettles go nuts at the moment as we are just about to make wine out of them! Go wild edibles! Not only can they feed us, tell us what is deficient (or over-represented) in our soil BUT they cover the topsoil and allow us a bit of a breather (unless they are rampant and voracious seedy spreaders like our forget-me-not curse!).

    • That is a classic no dig method. Mulching, sheet mulching. It all feeds the land, as you know. Unfortunately, the cats like the sheet mulch, so we had to go with plant cover. They may dig, but they are defeated by roots 😀

    • Oh yes, and I can go for nettles for beer soon as well, I want to experiment with malt. Have you tried them instead of spinach? They’re one of my favourites.

      • When do you eat them? I read somewhere that you can’t eat them at a specific time but they didn’t say when was the wrong time! I have been leery of trying them since I read that!

      • The only time that you can’t eat them is when they are in flower, due to the calcium carbonate crystals in the leaves, which give them an unpleasant grainy texture. Young plants in spring and new growth in autum or on a site that has been cut back are good to go. You might be interested in this post, in which I made gnocchi, but discuss nettle foraging for food in more detail

      • A wonderful post and a great recipe that I just stole. I will have to look at the nettles to make sure that they aren’t flowering before I decide to scarf them. We are so tired at the moment that we probably wouldn’t notice the crystals and would get gout or something equally as reprehensible. Cheers for answering my question…sometimes I just don’t know who is reading my posts lol ;). Again, a wonderful post of your own and very informative. I will be making the nettle gnocchi soon as potatoes are one thing that is dirt cheap here in Tasmania 🙂

  5. Joan Lambert Bailey

    Oh, I do love this salad, and had forgotten all about it! Many thanks for the reminder. My mint has also taken over most of a whole bed, which has made me despise it slightly. Lesson learned.

    For companion planting I often choose alyssum. It’s low growing and a spreader, so it makes a nice soil cover. Plus, it’s many lovely smelling flowers attract pollinators galore. I also let purslane stand. It’s wide, edible and low, and can make a very nice volunteer living mulch.

    • Thank you Joan. I have had good success with chickweed too, except that I enjoy it so much, it hasn’t been permanent ground cover.
      There are a few salads that I make with mint – radish, mint and feta (with cucumber and spring onions and a rough oil and blackberry or red wine vinegar dressing); a Thai chicken and mango salad, tabouleh, and I add it as a leaf in normal salads. Then there is always mint tea. I hope that you enjoy your bounty

  6. Andrea

    No picture but your recipe sounds great………….Interesting about keeping soil covered, I like to keep the soil mulched over the summer months to retain moisture but come Autumn & Winter I remove it all (into the compost) so the soil is warmed by the sunshine and less frost damage too.
    I grow catnip and rosemary in the veg plot which the bees just love and help with pollination.

    • Mulch is also an important permaculture technique, to trap warmth and moisture. I do that too, but still find that a lot of plants is best for the cats 🙂
      I also love to mix herbs and veg. I have heard that dill is brilliant with asparagus, so I shall plant that next year. Thanks for the reminder to actually order the seed this year!

  7. VP

    My neighbour has just ‘tidied up’ some of my guerrilla garden in front of our properties and consequently cut back both undesirables and the plants I’d planted 😦

    Thanks for the fattoush recipe – I must check the sumac link you’ve given with the actual species name of the sumac tree we have round the corner. I’ve a feeling they’re not the same thing… if they are, then I have a ready supply to forage 🙂

    Delighted to hear re your contacting Patrick and everything that’s happened as a result. It’s wonderful where blogging can take us isn’t it?

    • Oh no, that is one of the risks of guerilla gardening. I’m sad that it happened to yours. Maybe this will get you chatting more to your neighbour, and you can do some joint guerilla action next year 🙂

      I also really hope that you do have the right sumac. It is brilliant for salad dressings, and in spice rubs for fish and aubergine. I keep looking. One day I’m bound to find some.

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