Sunday, July 7, 2013

Shopska Salad

On our trip to the Balkans we discovered the shopska salad and fell in love with it. It is served at virtually every restaurant in the Balkans and one or both of us had one at most of our restaurant meals. 

It was developed in the 1950s by some of the leading chefs in Bulgaria who were asked to develop recipes that would encourage tourists to visit. It gets its name from the Shopi people who inhabit the region of Shopluk,  which is where Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia meet. It is also known as the Bulgarian salad. We know it is popular in Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro and it is apparently also popular in Romania, the Czech Republic and Hungary, as well as Bulgaria. 

The usual ingredients are tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, peppers, sirene cheese (a white brine cheese) and parsley. The vegetables are usually diced and salted and then a light dressing of sunflower or olive oil is added. Sometimes vinegar is added as well. The vegetables are then covered in a thick layer of grated or diced sirene cheese. 

My favorite shopska salad was the first one I had, at the restaurant Zeken Salas in Krcedin, Serbia (Judy had one earlier in Sarajevo). The taste of the grated salty cheese over the vegetables was amazing. I wished that first meal that I'd just ordered two or three of the small shopska salads and I wouldn't have cared for anything else. I remember that it also had a distinctive vinegary taste. Some that we had later were grated with large pieces of cheese, but I really prefer the grating with the small grater that gives it the puffed up, powdery texture. 
Restaurant Inat Kuca in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. The ingredients on the menu were listed as paprika (red pepper), tomato, onion, cucumber and Bosnia feta cheese. 

My first shopska salad at Zeken Salas in Krcedin, Serbia, the best one of the whole trip.
Vinotueka Temov in Skopje, Macedonia.
Restaurant near  Sinan Pasha Mosque and Prizrenska Bistrica River in Prizren, Kosovo.
Letna Bava Kaneo in Ohrid, Macedonia.
Damar in Ohrid, Macedonia.
Pizzeria Giardino in Kotor, Montenegro.
I found three different shopska recipes in a quick Google search. I wanted to get a feel for what kinds of proportions the recipes called for. for Eastern European Food called for 4 tomatoes, chopped; 1 large cucumber, unpeeled and chopped; 4 green or red peppers, roasted or raw, chopped; 1 large yellow onion, chopped, or 6 green onions, sliced; 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley; 1/2 cup of sunflower oil; 1/4 cup red-wine vinegar; 1/2 cup of Bulgarian sirene cheese or feta cheese, crumbled; salt and pepper. Put oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a jar. Cover and shake until well-blended. Toss with vegetables in a serving bowl. Top with the cheese.

Find Bulgarian Food called for the following ingredients: 4 ripe tomatoes; 2 long cucumbers; 1 onion; 1 red or green pepper; 1/3 bunch of parsley; 2 tablespoons olive oil; 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar; 1 cup (1/2 pound) of Bulgarian cheese (or feta cheese). called for the following ingredients: 4 medium tomatoes; 4 cucumbers, peeled; 1 green bell pepper, diced; 1 red bell pepper; 1 bunch of spring onions; 1 bunch of parsley; 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil; 1 cup feta cheese or Bulgarian white cheese; and 5 to 10 black olives to garnish.

There is quite a disparity in ratios. Based on my experience eating them, I wanted a roughly equal ratio of tomato to cucumber. So I chopped up 2 cucumbers; 3 tomatoes (I used two at first, and then added a third because it needed more); at least 1/2 a chopped up yellow onion; 1 diced red pepper; about 1/3 of a bunch of chopped parsley; 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil; 1 1/2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and Greek feta in brine. Grating the feta with a small grater produced the fluffy cheese look that I enjoyed. 
Ingredients for my shopska salad: two cucumbers, three tomatoes (I added an additional one), one red pepper, a 1/2 yellow onion, 1/3 bunch of parsley, Greek feta (sheep) cheese, red wine vinegar and olive oil.
Feta in the brine
Chopped ingredients for one serving, before the cheese.
Shredded feta on top of the chopped ingredients.
My creation was very good, but it needs further work. I need to find a source for sirene cheese. I think it was better than the Greek feta. From what I can find on-line, it appears that sirene cheese is a Bulgarian feta. One cheesemonger commented that Bulgarian feta is generally saltier and more assertive than many Greek fetas and the Bulgarian feta is a bit granier and more dense. He also noted that feta was historically made with goat milk, but can be made with sheep or cow milk as well (most of the feta I see is sheep milk). I believe that at least one of the shopska salads we had was made from cheese made out of goat milk. I also intend to cut down on the dressing and put a little greater ratio of olive oil to red wine vinegar. Those we ate did not have as much liquid in them. 


  1. It's fun to know that this salad is grounded in the tourist industry. Now, 60+ years later, it seems to be a "native" food. We saw so many small gardens and wandering farm animals throughout our trip, so this seems like a natural by-product of those gardens and animals.

  2. This sounds really good! I hope you keep up the search for the perfect recipe and cheese and blog about it.

  3. I, too, am searching for the perfect shopska salad recipe. I just returned from Eastern Europe. I don't remember the salad being salty. I think the feta probably overwhelms the other flavors.

    1. You are right, it is the feta that gives it the salty taste.

  4. Hello. Shopska salad is very popular salad, indeed. I think there is no 'original' recipe, you just add whatever your heart desires, the only ingredients that are a "must" are tomatoes, cucumbers and cheese. I like to add also black pepper and olives. It depends on what the person likes. I don't like onions and I don't add them to the salad. By the way, there is a similar salad called "Ovcharska salata", you can try it too. Ingredients are: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onion, mushrooms (marinaded), cheese (white bulgarian sirene), ham, yellow cheese (I suppose this is the 'normal' cheese you have?), boiled eggs, olives. You chop everything and add oil, parsley, salt and vinegar (not wine but vinegar made of apples - by the way in Bulgaria in shopska salata we put that kind of vinegar, not wine). But usually when there are tomatoes we don't put vinegar because it gets too sour. Greetings from Bulgaria :)

  5. I saw that you live in the USA, so for white cheese you can go to a Bulgarian shop (I think there is one in Los Angeles), or if there is no Bulgarian shop search for Turkish or Russian... or any other Balkan store hehe :)

  6. Bulgarian here, now in the US:
    The biggest problem is the cheese. Shopska Salata is just not the same with Greek feta. I order it online from a company called Malincho that has a wide variety at very good prices for the US. I also usually add a little crushed chubritza.