Shopska salad is a Bulgarian salad that I became well acquainted with while living in southeastern Europe. The name Shopska is derived from the Shopluk region of Bulgaria and Shopska salad, often written as Šopska salata or Шопска салата throughout the Balkans, is one of the only regional recipes created in the 1950s that has remained popular to this day. At the time, a handful of recipes were created and promoted by Balkanturist in an attempt to highlight local cuisine. And, to tell you the truth, I feel like this still wasn’t the most popular salad I found in Bulgaria, but it was all over Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia.
I don’t consider myself a particularly picky eater, but I wasn’t as adventurous about food when I first started college; however, I went to study abroad and live with a homestay family and I didn’t want to be thought of as rude, so I decided to at least try whatever they had to offer (except for mushrooms). This posed somewhat of a problem because, at the time, a number of ingredients in Balkan cuisine were not things that I appreciated: onions, peppers, feta and vinegar, just to name a few. So I was pleasantly surprised when I came across this salad and found that I absolutely loved it in spite of its pungent odor. All my friends really like it, too!
One of the things I like most about this salad is that you can easily wing it. You can play up or play down its flavors to your liking. It’s a combination of tomato, cucumber, onion, and peppers. People often throw in pimentos, chives, shallots and/or parsley, too. The veggies are tossed together in a light dressing made up of about 2/3 olive oil (my personal favorite is MY BROTHER’S OLIVE OIL Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which I get from Whole Foods Market) or sunflower oil and 1/3 vinegar (I almost always use HEINZ Apple Cider Vinegar). You then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and top it with shredded, crumbled or cubed sirene (white brine cheese).
Sirene, as far as I can tell, is feta cheese or something similar. I think it’s one of those things where real feta has to come from a particular place, much like people calling cheese Parmesan even if it isn’t Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Yields approximately 6 large servings
- 1 large white onion, chopped
- 2 bell peppers (green are traditional but you can do any combo), chopped
- 1 slicing cucumber, chopped
- 4 medium vine-ripened tomatoes (or 2 large tomatoes), chopped
- 8 oz. feta cheese (my favorite is creamy Bulgarian feta), shredded/cubed/crumbled
- 12 teaspoons olive oil or sunflower oil
- 6 teaspoons white or apple cider vinegar
- Salt to taste (I usually use ground sea salt)
- Black pepper to taste (I usually use freshly ground pepper)
- Chop all vegetables.
- Mix all vegetables.
- Toss vegetables with olive oil and vinegar.
- Sprinkle salad with salt and pepper to taste and mix.
- Separate salad servings into bowls and top with feta cheese.
A few things to keep in mind:
- This makes 6-12 servings depending on how big of a salad I want, so I usually put all the veggies in a salad spinner and only add the dressing and cheese to what I eat (in this case, about 1 tsp vinegar and 2 tsp oil per serving). The veggies should keep for about a week if you spin them well and keep them in an airtight container.
- I like tomatoes on the vine but you can use any variety. They should be ripe but somewhat firm.
- I’ve seen the cucumbers served with skin or peeled. It’s all about preference.
- I highly recommend getting a large brick of imported feta from a local deli in place of the prepackaged kind. It’s almost always more flavorful. I love Bulgarian creamy feta, which I’ve so far only found at Shop & Save Market; however, I’m always able to get a good Greek, Bulgarian or even domestic feta from most Eastern European meat and cheese shops.
- Don’t be afraid to play with the mixture of veggies or the dressing ratio. Some people like more onion, some people like less onion. Some people like a lot of vinegar, some people like none. I very rarely measure this.