I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never been to the Republic of Macedonia. In fact, I would be pretty surprised if you have been there! It’s a small country, located a bit out of the way in south east Europe, but it’s definitely worth the trip. The tourism industry is still underdeveloped (translation: things are still cheap), but there are plenty of places to stay and getting around isn’t too complicated. One of the most delightful aspects of traveling in Macedonia is the abundance of inexpensive but incredibly delicious food. Throughout the region, Macedonia is known for its high quality produce, especially peppers and tomatoes.
Shopska Salata is standard fare in most Macedonian households and restaurants, but you are equally likely to find this salad in other parts of the Balkans. You might be thinking to yourself that with the addition of a couple of olives it would look awfully similar to a Greek Salad. But,
because of our strong nationalist tendencies for now we’ll call it “shopska with olives!” (Just kidding…about the nationalism.)
My Macedonian mother-in-law makes the best shopska. Every time I taste it I find myself wondering what my own salad is missing. Then one day, I stumbled upon her secret–lots of olive oil! There is something that happens when the juices from the tomatoes mingle with high quality olive oil and a little bit of vinegar. I’m not sure what science would say, but I like it. So, there you have tip number one–don’t skimp on the olive oil. Tip number two is all about the cheese. I am a firm believer that you can find almost anything in America, and I don’t buy any of that crap people tell you about how you just can’t replicate a dish because it’s impossible to find the ingredients outside of xyz country. However, I have noticed that a lot of the sirenje (feta) sold in the grocery store here is pre-crumbled (?!?). What’s that about? Are we too lazy to crumble our own feta? This feta is usually more expensive (it must be because it takes them so much more time to crumble it for us) and is usually of lesser quality. The best feta comes in a big brick and is packed in brine. If you are really trying to be authentic, and assuming you don’t live in an area with a large Macedonian population, check ethnic grocery stores that cater to Greek, Bulgarian, Turkish, or Lebanese customers. If, like me, you don’t necessarily demand the best cheese and would settle for good cheese, I have enjoyed shopska salata made with regular feta from Trader Joe’s (which I crumbled myself).
- 3 large tomatoes
- 2 medium cucumbers
- 1 small onion
- 3-4 ounces feta cheese
- olive oil
- red wine vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
- Chop tomatoes and cucumbers into large bite-sized pieces. Combine in a medium sized bowl and sprinkle with salt.
- Very thinly slice the onions and add to bowl.
- Toss vegetables together with a healthy drizzle of olive oil. (Don’t skimp here. I’m convinced that the secret to good shopska is not holding back on the olive oil!)
- Add about three tablespoons of red wine vinegar, or more depending on your preference.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Crumble or grate feta over the top of the salad and garnish with fresh herbs.