Two music graduates chronicle the culinary delights of Leeds and London and explore the height of fine dining on a limited budget.

Good food is well punk.

July 24, 2010

From Bulgaria With Love: A Beginner's Guide to Shopska Salad.

With three years of higher education under our belts, my housemates and I (along with 6 other friends) recently spent a week on the coast of the Black Sea in Bulgaria sunning ourselves, drinking cheap lager and generally frittering away the remainders of our overdrafts.
"But why is he telling us all this!" I hear you ask through the magic of the internet. Well, obviously because we ended up spending the week surviving on Shopska, the national salad of Bulgaria. It may sound simple, and I'm not going to imply that simply chopping vegetables requires a recipe, but I felt the meal needed some kind of record for posterity. What can I say?

The key ingredient of the Shopska is the cheese, a type of brined white cheese called sirena. It's similar to feta, but less strongly flavoured, and generally made from cow's milk rather than ewe's. Any Leedsers should be able to pick something similar from the Maumoniat international supermarket, but the ubiquitous Feta should serve just as well.

Perhaps harder to replicate in Britain are the tomatoes. I don't think I've ever eaten a tomato from a supermarket that satisfied me in any way. I mean, sure, Sainsbury's flavouripe are alright in a bland sandwich, or drenched in dressing, but we just don't have the climate for producing tomatoes that actually taste of what they are. Oh well. It may be worth shelling out for. If you find a good source for tomatoes, let me know. In any case, the texture of the salad demands large and juicy tomatoes rather than small and fruity - if it wouldn't go in Maz's famed Tabbouleh, it wouldn't go in here.

Serves 10 as a starter, maybe 6 as a main.

1 block of Sirena cheese
1 large cucumber
2 Green or yellow peppers
2 red onions
4 of the freshest, best beef tomatoes you can find
1 tsp dried parsley
½ tsp dried oregano
6 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt and Pepper

Begin by chopping the cucumber, peppers and tomatoes into chunks about 1cm wide, and place in a large bowl - actual quantities don't really matter, but there should be a roughly even amount. Likewise, finely chop or slice the onions, add to the bowl and stir the mixture. Season well with salt (to bring out the juices) and set aside for a few minutes. 

To make the dressing, simply mix the dried herbs into the oil with a fork. Add some salt and pepper, slosh in the vinegar and shake vigourously in a glass jar. Pour most of the dressing over the mixture in the bowl. Either chop the cheese into large chunks or grate it over the salad - either way is fine, but we preferred the large chunks of salty goodness soaking up the dressing and tomato juices. Drizzle over the remainder of the dressing, and serve with bread and grilled meat.

I know, it doesn't look like much, but the way the saltiness of the cheese is matched by the acidty of the dressing and juice of the tomatoes is one of the closest sensations I've come to culinary perfection.

As a post-recipe bonus, have a picture of me making the salad, in a dodgy vest and using the knife found in our villa that we swiftly entitled "the Bitchfucker".


  1. Please will you upload your recipe for bread. Thank you.

  2. Nice one, we had shopska with every meal in Bulgaria a few years back - became a bit of an obsession, actually. Strange how a pretty simple salad always tastes much better when on holiday in the med (or eastern europe, I guess...)