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Recipe: Shopska Salad

One of the dishes that was pretty much ubiquitous when we visited Bulgaria, and could be found pretty much every meal we had, was shopska salad. It is Bulgaria’s national salad, apparently created as part of tourism campaign in the 1950s, its colours of red, green and white match those of the Bulgarian flag.

The dish is popular throughout the Balkans – we also enjoyed it in Bosnia and Herzegovina and it made a regular appearance on menus in Croatia as well. There are all sorts of variations. Fruit and vegetables in Eastern Europe are usually more delicious than those we get at home. They make look uglier but they taste so much better. Because the salad uses very finely grated cheese you get a lovely hit of salty cheese with every forkful as opposed to, say, a Greek salad which uses cubes of cheese. It’s a really easy recipe that tastes absolutely great. This version is the one that we ate in Bulgaria.

shopska salad recipe

Shopska is traditionally made using Bulgarian sirene cheese which is difficult to get in the UK. Feta cheese is more easily available and is a really good substitute. Here’s our recipe for shopska salad.

Shopska Salad Ingredients

shopska salad

1 cucumber

4 tomatoes

1 cup of feta cheese (we like the barrel aged variety as it has a lovely rich, salty flavour)

1 tbs red wine vinegar (white wine or cider vinegar can also be used)

2 tbs sunflower oil (sunflower is more traditional but it is fine to use olive oil if you prefer)

Pinch of salt (go easy) and pepper (as much as you like)

Method

Many recipes recommend removing the seeds from the tomatoes and cucumber but we hate food waste so we tend to leave them in.

Wash the cucumber and chop into cubes

Wash the tomatoes, cut out the stem and cut into small cubes.

Make the dressing: combine the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper – we recommend minimal salt as the cheese is salty; often we omit the salt altogether. Mix together and then pour over the cucumber and tomatoes. Let them marinate for a few hours if you wish.

Finely grate the cheese. If you have an ordinary grater that’s absolutely fine but if you can, use a grater with a really fine setting. Feta is quite soft, so isn’t the easiest cheese to grate but it is worth persevering to get a lovely fine mass of cheese.

Place the marinated vegetables in a bowl. Sprinkle over the grated cheese. Devour.

shopska salad recipe

Variations. It is perfectly fine to add in other vegetables: finely chopped red onion, chopped celery, red or green bell peppers etc. If you want to add some herbs such as parsley or basil, that’s okay too.

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Daily Bread in Bulgaria

The countryside of central Bulgaria is a joy to travel through with its beautiful mountain scenery and picturesque villages. We spent time in rural communities, staying in village houses or family pensions and took advantage of the many walking opportunities in the mountains.

Veliko Tarnovo is a pretty town, and one of the biggest in the region. It boasts an impressive fortress, Tsarevets, which was a stronghold in mediaeval times, overlooking the town from a position of strength on its hilltop location. It was the main fortress of the Bulgarian empire that ruled between 1185 and 1396.

It’s not too far from the impressive Dryanovo monastery and the Anduka Canyon.

Koprivshtitsa is a lovely rural community where you can wander around the village with all the locals.

Bulgaria’s rural heritage is celebrated at the Etar ethnographic museum located close to Gabravo. It makes for an interesting morning’s wander along the cobbled streets around the open-air village comprising traditional buildings with working displays as well as demonstrations of local crafts.

There are a number of exhibits showing technology that uses water, including water mills…

…there’s even a washing machine, used to wash rugs, that makes use of the stream that flows through the village.

A number of restaurants serve traditional Bulgarian food which is fresh, tasty and hearty. When you are used to eating mass produced supermarket food which looks perfect but has somehow lost all its flavour, it is joyful to be able to eat fresh fruit and vegetables which may be oddly-shaped, gnarly and, well, just a bit ugly, but the flavour is so good.

There is even a baker at Etar, churning out delicious fluffy loaves from a traditional wood-fired oven.