I am in charge of planning our family trip to the Western Balkans this summer and so far I have done very little. Instead of diligently reading the Lonely Planet guide and mapping out our route I surf the internet for Albanian, Macedonian and Bulgarian recipes.
In the framework of researching for our trip I made a tomato and cucumber salad called shopska which is similar to the salads that are popular throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and Turkey. The only difference is that in Bulgaria shopska is topped with a cloud of grated Bulgarian cheese from the Shar Mountain region where the cows and sheep graze in lush pastures and produce the creamiest of milk. It is here that authentic shopska originated because of the unique flavor of the local produce. Of course those from Macedonia and Serbia think that Bulgarians’ hoarding of the shopska is ridiculous as it is a regional food and equally popular throughout many parts of the Balkans. Bulgarians claim that Shopska is derived from the word shopi, citizens of the mountainous region of Sophia, Bulgaria although it is also defined as an ethnic group which spans neighboring countries as well. This has piqued my interest and I will be planning the family trip from one shopska to another to find out just who makes the better salad.
Food from the western Balkans is heavily influenced by Turkish cuisine. While the Spaniards were the first to bring tomatoes and peppers back from the New World it was the Ottoman Turks who are credited in dispersing these exotic foods from North Africa, where they replaced Spanish control, to the rest of their Empire. The shopska is similar to the Greek salad which also uses a type of white brined cheese, called feta, which is protected by the European Union.
Not very Bulgarian Shopska
This is not a very authentic version of shopska by any standard but just what I happened to have at home when I became inspired. I also did not grate the cheese into a pyramid which seems is the defining point of the salad.
2 tomatoes, chopped into cubes
2 cucumbers, chopped
2 bell peppers, roasted, peeled and sliced
A handful of olives, preferably black (I used green)
2 green onions chopped
A bunch of parsley, finely chopped
A handful of mixed baby greens
100 grams Bulgarian cheese
Salt, vinegar and oil to dress (I used lemon juice and olive oil)
Mix everything together and dress with oil and vinegar.