Shopska salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and feta, a fresh and delightful Bulgarian or Croatian salad.
SHOPSKA SALAD RECIPE
Shopska salad – one of the most popular salads in the Balkan area and Eastern Europe. I have been eating a version of this shopska salad all my life without even knowing it was called like that.
Apparently, the shopska salad was created in the Shopluk region of Bulgaria during the 1960’s “as part of a tourist promotion by the socialist party to highlight local ingredients”.
Nowadays, the shopska salad has become a standard not only in the Bulgarian cuisine, but also in Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia and so on, all over the Balkans and parts of Eastern Europe apparently. And the salad is really not very different from the Greek salad (made with olives) or the Turkish Coban or Shepherd’s salad.
And some interesting information I found when reading about the origins of the salad. 2014 the shopska salad was voted as the most popular food in Europe in a “Tastes of Europe” competition. It was followed by the Lithuanian beet soup and the Romanian sarmale. Yuppy! My beloved sarmale made it in the top 3!
I first identified this tomato cucumber and feta salad as a shopska salad during our holiday in Croatia this spring. We ate a lot of great food there, the cevapcici being some of the best I have ever tasted, but what impressed me the most was the shopska salad.
So familiar, yet so different from what I have eaten before. And so good, I could have eaten it every day. Well, I did not manage to eat it every day while we were there, but at least every second or third day…
As already mentioned I ate lots of similar salads during my childhood and youth in Romania. My grandmother would make it often in summer when tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers were sweet and plentiful, but she never added feta to the salad.
We had feta (Romanian telemea) often together with this salad but always on the side, not mixed or sprinkled over the salad.
And then there is, of course, the famous Greek salad, which I have made dozens and dozens of times and which is also another version of the shopska salad including olives. And maybe you would like to try a Greek Pasta Salad? Delicious and perfect for a potluck or any gathering this summer.
But the Croatian version of the shopska salad was better than all the regular tomato, cucumber and pepper salads I have tasted before.
The first time I had it in Croatia I didn’t even order it myself. It was one of our friends who ordered it as a side dish for cevapcici. He was served such a huge shopska salad that all of us could eat something of it and I think I was the one who ate the most… So good! That creamy cheese sprinkled or rather smeared over those crisp and delicious vegetables… Heaven!
INGREDIENTS FOR SHOPSKA SALAD
- I used a rather huge beefsteak tomato, ripe and sweet. It weighed about 350 g/ 12.3 oz. If you don’t have beefsteak tomatoes, you can use 2-3 regular tomatoes. Just make sure that they are perfectly ripe and sweet, underripe tomatoes will definitely ruin the salad.
- I chose to use beefsteak tomatoes, because they are more similar to what my grandmother would use to make a tomato and cucumber salad during those hot summer months in Romania long ago.
- I used mini cucumbers, because I find them crunchier and tastier and I buy them every time I happen to find them. You can replace them with regular longer cucumbers.
- However, if the large cucumber has a lot of seeds, scrape them out with a tablespoon, they tend to make the salad watery if not served immediately.
- I used a combination of red, yellow and green peppers.
- The shopska salad can be made with either fresh or roasted peppers. I chose to make it with fresh peppers because that is the way we had in Croatia. But I will definitely try the roasted pepper version soon, it sounds great!
- Perfect for the shopska salad would be the Bulgarian sirene cheese, which is brined white cheese. Similar sorts of this kind of cheese are to be found all over the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
- This kind of cheese it is made of sheep, cow or goat’s cheese or a combination of those. I am not an expert in Bulgarian or Croatian cheese, but I can say more about the Romanian version of this brined white cheese, called telemea.
- The best telemea to buy in Romania comes from the farmer’s markets and you have to taste yourself through different producers until you find your favorite version. At least that is how my grandmother used to buy this cheese when I was little.
- Telemea comes in different versions, some kinds are saltier, some milder, some are crumbly and some are very soft. Some are snow-white while other are rather yellow. My favorite sort was always the creamy, salty kind. And what I liked least was a bland, unsalted sort, which had a rubbery consistency and which always made my mouth and teeth feel somehow gritty.
- The standard version, the one you can buy in supermarkets, for instance, is very similar to the regular and very popular feta cheese, so feta cheese would be a good replacement, if you cannot find the more genuine sirene kind of white cheese.
- However, make sure you buy a creamy feta in brine, the creamier the better. The cheese used for the shopska salads we ate in Croatia, was incredibly creamy, so creamy that it was actually rather smeared than crumbled on top of the salad.
- Many shopska salad recipes I saw online use olive oil. Olive oil is fine, but I am absolutely sure that the first shopska salad we had in Croatia (the best of them all) was made with sunflower oil, I could taste it. And I am good in recognizing sunflower oil, as it is the only kind of oil my grandmother ever used.
- And it is the kind of oil I use most of the times myself when making a salad including tomatoes (except for the Italian tomato and mozzarella salad). The combination of tomatoes, onions and sunflower oil is perfect, if you ask me, it reminds me of home and of hot summers.
- However, if you prefer olive oil, do use it, it tastes great as well, provided you use a good quality extra virgin olive oil.
HOW TO MAKE SHOPSKA SALAD
- Chop the tomatoes into cubes.
- Halve and chop the mini cucumbers. If using a large cucumber, I would recommend removing the seeds, they tend to release too much water and make the shopska salad watery after a while.
- Deseed and chop the bell peppers.
- Finely chop the onion and the parsley.
- Mix all the vegetables in a large bowl.
- To make the dressing, whisk together the sunflower oil, red wine vinegar, fine sea salt and pepper. Give to the salad and stir.
- Crumble the creamy feta on top. Or you can mash the cheese with a fork and smear it over the salad. Or you can crumble it and stir into the salad.
- Adjust the taste with salt and pepper and more vinegar, if you like it. I always add more vinegar than most people do, I grew up on rather sour salads and that is the way I liked them. But do add vinegar according to your taste.
The shopska salad is best served immediately or on the day you make it, but leftovers the next day are fine as well.
- 1 large beefsteak tomato about 350 g/ 12.3 oz or the same amount of regular tomatoes (See note 1)
- 3 mini cucumbers each about 15 cm/ 6 inches long or a regular long cucumber (See note 2)
- 3 bell peppers red, yellow and green
- 1 medium onion red or white
- 1 handful fresh parsley
- 3 tablespoons sunflower oil]
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar to taste
- 1 cup feta cheese See note 3
- fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Chop the tomatoes into cubes. Halve and chop the mini cucumbers. If using a large cucumber, remove the seeds with a tablespoon. Chop the bell peppers. Finely chop the onion and the parsley.
- Mix all the vegetables in a large bowl.
- Dressing: whisk together the sunflower oil, red wine vinegar, fine sea salt, and pepper. Add to the salad and stir.
- Crumble the creamy feta on top of the salad. Sprinkle cheese on the salad or mash it with a fork and smear on top of the salad. You can also crumble it and stir it into the salad.
- Adjust the taste with salt and pepper and more vinegar, if you like it.
- Make sure that the tomatoes are ripe and sweet; unripe tomatoes would ruin the salad.
- You can use a regular long cucumber. If so, remove the seeds unless you serve the salad immediately. They tend to make the salad watery if you leave it for a while or if you have leftovers.
- Preferably Bulgarian or Balkan style sirene cheese – brined white cheese, but a tasty and creamy feta cheese can be used instead.