Shopska salad, or shopska salata, is a simple yet elegant Bulgarian side dish you can make with a handful of pantry staples.
Shopska salad is a cousin to Mediterranean cucumber and tomato salads but with its own distinct personality. Like Greek salad or Shirazi salad, it swaps lettuce for bright parsley, crunchy cucumbers and juicy tomatoes.
Bulgarians–brilliantly, I must say, add sweet, silky, and smoky roast pepper and a tangy grated cheese that's similar to Greek feta. Each gives the vibrant salad yet another layer of flavor and texture.
I’ve taken a few liberties with the traditional Shopska salad recipe to accommodate the ingredients I can easily find at the supermarket. The result is a simple side dish that goes with just about everything! It’s fresh meets smoky, bright meets creamy, briny meets sweet, and crunchy meets silky all in one.
Roast the peppers yourself for the boldest, sweetest flavor. From there, it’s on your table in under 10 minutes! Shopska salad is easy to make and packed with nutrition, color, flavor, and texture. Get your veggies in on a weeknight, or serve as a no-fuss side for a casual dinner party.
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History of Shopska Salad
"Shopska salad" was first named in a Bulgarian cookbook in 1940 as a variation on lyutenitsa, a Bulgarian vegetable relish. The dish we know as Shopska today was created in 1955 as part of the state tourist agency. It got its name from the Sopski region in western Bulgaria, where it is said to have originated.
Shopska salad was developed and popularized by Petar Doychev, a pioneer in Bulgarian tourism. The ingredients resemble the colors of the Bulgarian flag (though they’ve also been staples of the Bulgarian diet for centuries). The easy-to-make salad became a staple of Bulgarian home cooking, later earning its place as an emblem of the country’s cuisine.
Shopska Salad Ingredients
Shopska salad comes together with ingredients that most Mediterranean kitchens keep stocked. Luckily, they’re all easy to grab at your local market, aside from a few near-identical swaps which I find just as delicious.
- Roasted bell pepper: Freshly roast the red pepper yourself for the best flavor and texture. Or you can use a store-bought jar of roasted peppers to save time.
- Tomatoes: Use ripe, juicy tomatoes from a sweet variety like campari or Roma. Or substitute with halved grape tomatoes.
- Cucumber: Smaller varieties, like English or Persian, have delicate skin and tend to be less bitter than slicing cucumbers. If thin cucumbers aren’t available, you can substitute with conventional cucumbers and peel the skin before slicing.
- Parsley: Opt for flat-leaf Italian parsley as it tends to be more flavorful and less bitter.
- Onion: Shallots or red onion add a sweet-meets-savory flavor. White onions would be too dominant, so I would recommend substituting with scallions or red onions.
- Seasoning: Season simply with kosher salt to enhance the flavor and red wine vinegar to balance the vegetables’ natural sweetness.
- Olive oil: Use a high-quality, smooth extra virgin olive oil that’s flavorful but not too bitter. I love super-smooth Italian Nocellara, or Spanish Hojiblanca for a subtly peppery kick. For a more traditional Shopska salad, use sunflower oil (olive trees aren’t as abundant in Bulgaria).
- Cheese: Traditionally, a sprinkle of "sirene," a Bulgarian cheese similar to Greek feta but usually made from cow’s milk, finishes the salad. It has a mild, creamy flavor that adds saltiness to the salad without dominating. It’s hard to come by where I live so I substitute with my favorite creamy feta.
- Olives: Olives are not an essential ingredient in traditional Shopska salad, but I love the rich, fruity, and briny flavor that kalamata olives bring to the table. You can leave them off if you prefer, or substitute them with a similar, high-quality variety like Taggiasca or Nocellara del Belice.
How to Make Shopska Salad
This traditional Bulgarian salad couldn’t be easier. Roast your bell pepper and all you need to do is chop and toss:
- Get ready. Roast one bell pepper or drain and chop one 6-ounce jar. If you have a gas stove, roast the pepper directly over medium-high flames, turning with a pair of tongs every few minutes until the pepper has softened fully and charred well on all sides (about 15 minutes). Or, roast on a sheet pan in a 450°F, turning until charred on all sides (about 15 minutes). Transfer the charred pepper to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside for 10 minutes while you work on other things.
- Prep the veggies. While it’s steaming, quarter 5-6 tomatoes. Slice ½ of an English cucumber into ¼-inch half moons. Finely chop enough parsley to yield ¼ cup. Chop 2 shallots (or 1 small red onion).
- Peel the roasted pepper. When the pepper is cool enough to handle, peel off its charred skin. Pat it dry with paper towels and coarsely chop into bit-sized pieces.
- Mix. To a medium salad bowl, add the pepper, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, and onion. Sprinkle with a big pinch of kosher salt. Add 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a good drizzle of olive oil (about 2 tablespoons). Toss to combine.
- Finish. Transfer the salad to a serving platter. Top with ½ cup of crumbled feta cheese and ¼ cup of pitted olives. Serve.
What to Serve with Shopska Salad
Shopska Salad is like table wine: it’s economical and simple yet perfect for brightening up a weeknight dinner. And it goes with everything! Serve this nutritious “table salad” with other weeknight-friendly dinners, like our 15-minute Broiled Salmon or easy sheet pan Chicken and Potatoes.
For a dinner party, serve family-style along with a showy main like whole Roast Chicken, Branzino, or Cauliflower (must love feta!). Roast a few extra bell peppers while you’re at it and welcome your guests with Roasted Red Pepper Hummus or Muhammara with a side of homemade pita. It’s a convenient two-for-one situation, but the flavors are so different no one will be the wiser!
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- 1 large red or orange bell pepper, roasted, skin removed, and coarsely chopped (see step 1, or use one (6-ounce) jar of roasted red peppers)
- 5 to 6 campari tomatoes (or 3 Roma tomatoes), quartered
- ½ English cucumber, sliced into ¼-inch half moons
- ¼ cup finely chopped Italian parsley
- 2 shallots or 1 small red onion, chopped
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup feta cheese, grated or crumbled
- ¼ cup pitted kalamata olives
- If you’re using fresh bell pepper, begin by roasting the pepper. If you have a gas stove, roast the pepper directly over medium-high flames, turning with a pair of tongs every few minutes until the pepper has softened fully and charred well on all sides (about 15 minutes). Or, roast on a sheet pan in a 450°F, turning until charred on all sides (about 15 minutes). Transfer the charred pepper to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside for 10 minutes while you work on other things. When the pepper has cooled enough to handle, peel the charred skin off and coarsely chop into bite sized pieces.
- Mix: In a medium salad bowl, add the pepper, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, and shallot. Sprinkle with a big pinch of kosher salt. Add the vinegar and a good drizzle of olive oil (about 2 tablespoons). Toss to combine.
- Finish: Transfer the salad to a serving platter. Top with feta cheese and olives. Serve.
- Try to get smaller cucumber varieties like Persian or English. If the larger waxy cucumbers are the only option, peel their skin for better texture and flavor.
- Look for blocks of feta packed in brine as they tend to be higher quality and more flavorful than pre-crumbled feta.
- This recipe calls for one roasted pepper, but I like to roast a batch to keep on hand. I use the remaining to bring the flavor party to sandwiches, salads, hummus, and Muhammara or Spicy Greek Feta Dip all week.
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