Phenomenal Shopska salad is a cucumber, tomato, and onion salad (plus peppers and cheese) you’ll love! Flavorful and uncomplicated, it’s so popular in the Balkans everyone claims they invented it. If that wasn't enough, even the European Parliament voted Shopska the best European dish!
What Is It
Oh, that scrumptious, infamous, Shopska salad!
I'll get grief for saying this, but Shopska is like a tastier Greek salad. What differentiates it is (sometimes) milder cheese and a few ingredients that are present in one while absent in the other.
There is much disagreement over its origins as it comes from the Shopluk region populated by Bulgarians, Macedonians, and Serbians.
One theory is that it was one of the dishes invented in the 1950s to boost tourism in communist Bulgaria. Then there are those who swear on their grandmother's grave Shopska's actually a Serbian salad, while others would fight you to death to prove it's Macedonian.
My advice to you is to never ever argue over what originated where with someone from the Balkans!
I grew up eating this salad, and it's still on the menu of every traditional food ex-Yu restaurant from Croatia to Montenegro. The point is that everyone loves a good cucumber, tomato, and onion salad.
Shopska is all that and so much more!
Why You'll Love Shopska
As far as salads go Shopska is really simple. You can count the ingredients on one hand. We've got (the equivalent of) local bell peppers (usually red and green), cucumber, tomato, and onions, and to top it all off, cheese.
The cheese takes this salad to the next level! Ranging from mild to sharp, this is usually a local brined (hard or medium-hard) white cheese. (For example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Shopska is topped with a local feta-like cheese called Vlašić or Travnik sir about 90% of the time.) However, smoked cheeses also work really well.
This is a salad with very few ingredients, so the focus is very much on quality over quantity. Only the best, freshest ingredients go into it. This makes you savor every special bite!
Warning! Don't make too many substitutions because then it won't be Shopska salad anymore.
Tomatoes: Roma, tomatoes on the vine (Campari), and plum tomatoes work best. Sub with beefsteak or Brandywine tomatoes.
Peppers: Local babura peppers (green/ yellow) and devil's horn peppers (red) are best. Sub with banana peppers, or yellow and red bell peppers. Avoid: green bell peppers as they're sour.
Onion: Yellow onion is the go-to for this recipe. Sub with sweet and white onions. Avoid: red, shallots, and green onions. (Use if you must, but the salad will taste differently.)
Cheese: Mild to sharp, white, cow and goat, semi-hard, and hard cheeses (preferably brined) are great options. Feta too. If using Greek feta find a type with less salt. (Care for a recommendation? Find a mild, semi-hard white cheese.) Smoked cheeses work wonderfully as well. Crumble or grate them. Finally, soft cheeses work well too, although they melt quickly when grated.
Vinaigrette: This is purely a matter of preference! Some like this salad just as is. Others add a vinaigrette or a splash of oil. I like it best when I make my own. If you decide to make a vinaigrette, make it a basic one. Vinaigrette isn't and shouldn't be the spotlight of Shopska salad.
Our lightning-fast instructions are here to give you an idea of how to make this cucumber, tomato, and onion salad. For more detailed information look at the recipe card below!
- Dice all salad ingredients and layer them in a salad bowl.
- If making a vinaigrette, combine ingredients and whisk. Pour over salad. Mix well. If not making a vinaigrette, add salt and pepper and mix.
- Top with grated cheese.
Storage tips: This is a simple salad that depends on the freshness of its ingredients, and NOT a salad to be prepared hours ahead. Make it just ahead of eating, or an hour-two ahead tops. Add cheese and vinaigrette just before serving.
Vinaigrette prep: You can make the vinaigrette several hours ahead, and keep it in the fridge. Take it out 30 minutes before serving, and whisk it immediately before serving, otherwise ingredients stay separated.
Cheese grating: As cheese crumbles when grated, throw it in the freezer 20 minutes before serving. It'll grate easier this way.
There are several theories. Some say Bulgaria, some Serbia, some North Macedonia. It's really taken off in ex-Yugoslavia during last half of the 20th century. Today you can find it on the restaurant menus of every ex-Yu state.
It's a cultural mesoregion defined by their inhabitants Šopi (or Shopi). It's roughly where Serbia, North Macedonia, and Bulgaria meet. Most of the region belongs to Bulgaria.
Absolutely! In fact, in restaurants in the Balkans you're served oil and vinegar separately so you can decide whether to use them or not.
More Amazing Salads
- Roasted Red Pepper Garlic Salad
- Russian Salad (Salad Olivier)
- Fermented Cabbage Salad
- Tuna and Egg Salad
Shopska Salad (Šopska Salata)
- 2 tomatoes medium, diced
- 1 cucumber large, peeled, diced
- 1 yellow onion medium, peeled, sliced thinly
- 1 red bell pepper cored, cut into strips
- 1 yellow banana pepper cored, cut into strips, sub with yellow bell pepper
- 6 teaspoons oil vegetable or olive
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice or vinegar
- 1-2 teaspoons parsley seasoning, or minced if fresh
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 8-10 ounces cheese grated if feta, gouda or similar; no need to grate if using soft cheese like goat
- In a medium bowl combine all salad ingredients by layering them on top of each other. (If making a vinaigrette go to step 2. If skipping it, add salt and pepper to taste and then mix all ingredients. Then go to step 3.)
- (Optional) In a small bowl combine all vinaigrette ingredients. Using a whisk or a fork with quick hand movements whisk all ingredients until they integrate. (While you're whisking try the dressing and adjust seasonings to your liking.) Pour the vinaigrette over the salad. Mix everything thoroughly until vinaigrette is evenly distributed over the salad.
- Top with cheese. (You can serve Shopska salad and then top it with cheese or top the salad with cheese in the main salad bowl, and then serve.)