Shopska salad is a traditional Bulgarian salad made of fresh vegetables and cheese. While there are similar versions of the salad served in the surrounding countries, an authentically prepared shopska salad is unique to Bulgaria. The standard ingredients are tomatoes, green onions, peppers and cucumbers sprinkled with Bulgarian cheese and vinaigrette on the side. The salad can be served with toasted bread, potatoes or cornbread. Another way the salad is eaten is alongside an alcoholic fruit drink known as rakia.
It is believed that shopska salad was originally developed by Balkantourist, a state-run Bulgarian tourist board, in the 1970s. It was found in many of the restaurants and resorts that were run by the organization as a way to highlight some of the local ingredients. The dish relies not necessarily on the combination of the ingredients, but rather on the quality of the ingredients that are grown and produced within Bulgaria. Variations and substitutions exist outside the country, but some feel these do not accurately reflect the true taste of the salad when made authentically.
The main ingredient in a shopska salad is tomatoes. It is suggested that these be used only when in season and when they are fully ripe. A fresh tomato, not grown in a greenhouse, will be moister and have skin that is more delicate and less waxy than commercially produced ones. Some recipes call for the tomatoes to be diced into small pieces, while others have them being left in larger chunks.
The next most important ingredient in a shopska salad is the cheese. This is supposed to be a style of Bulgarian cheese known as sirene. Sirene is a type of white cheese that can be made from cow, goat or sheep’s milk that is brined. Some recipes for making shopska salad outside Bulgaria suggest that feta cheese can be substituted; feta's taste and texture is different from sirene, although it is as close an approximation as possible without using the actual cheese.
The remaining ingredients — cucumber, green onions and peppers — are diced, added to the tomatoes along with some salt and pepper, and then mixed. It can be served either in a mound on a plate or in a bowl by itself. Once the salad is ready to serve, a generous portion of shredded sirene is placed on top.
Shopska salad can be garnished with a flower made from tomato skin or with olives. Another traditional part is vinaigrette made from sunflower oil and a little vinegar. It is typically served on the side but also can be drizzled on top of the dish. Olive oil can be used instead of sunflower oil, but the taste is stronger and will change the overall character of the dish.