Shopska salad

This salad has one of the highest ease-to-satisfaction ratios of anything I’ve ever prepared. Critics may point to all the chopping that’s involved. To them I simply say: Cut larger chunks if you must. I first had this dish in Bulgaria, where the hydroponic tomato is as rare a creature as a stable currency, and the failure of their collective farming system meant farmers sold their good stuff in open-air markets. When I arrived it was late summer when tomatoes were at their best – deep, bloody red and meaty. The shopska is the standard starter at most restaurants and at home it is served before dinner, late at night with plum brandy, or frankly any time guests are around and you need something to nibble. Use a firm, dry feta or goat’s milk cheese; the soft versions will be too runny and crumbled feta tends to tumble off your fork rather than adhere to the veggies (it can be used in a pinch, though). Feel free to leave out the cucumbers or add in a bit of onion or some slices of recently roasted red peppers. The essential flavors are bound up in the sweetness of the tomatoes, the creamy saltiness of the cheese and the acid of the vinegar. Some Americanized versions throw in Basil but that only disturbs the flavor balance.


  • 8 medium-large vine-ripened tomatoes (from Beefsteak to Heirloom, whatever looks best)
  • 4 medium cucumbers (or 3 English cucumbers), seeds removed
  • ½lb dry feta or goat cheese (Greek or Bulgarian, not French), grated
  • ¼c red-wine vinegar
  • ⅛c olive oil
  • ½Tbls sea salt


  • cutting board
  • sharp knife
  • large bowl for serving
  • peeler
  • cheese grater
  • slotted serving spoon


  1. Depending on size, either quarter or eighth the tomatoes from the central axis and remove most of the seeds with your thumb or forefinger. Cut these quarters or eighths into thirds or halves – I eyeball them, figuring I want to fit one or two on my fork. With the exception of a small handful, put tomatoes into serving bowl, sprinkling a pinch of the sea salt on top.
  2. Peel cucumbers and slice in half lengthwise. Depending on preference, either cut halves lengthwise again and slice off the seeds in one swoop or keep original halves and remove seeds with a spoon. If you use English cucumbers the seeds won’t be as watery and you can keep them. Put cucumbers on top of tomatoes. Place the remaining handful of tomatoes on top of the cucumbers.
  3. Holding the grater and the feta over the bowl, work together to produce thin, short strips of feta. Grate all the cheese. When finished, drizzle olive oil and vinegar over the cucumbers, tomatoes and cheese. The ingredients will get a good mixing when you begin serving the salad onto everyone’s plates or bowls.