Young man in shopp dress from Tran, Bulgaria. 1921 (sourced from Wikimedia Commons)
If you are unable to source any sirene (сирене...which simply translates as cheese, although I am told it's specifically white cheese), follow the advice of my lovely Bulgarian friend, Velin Bachev (do check out his work - he is a brilliant sculptor and musician!), who confirms that feta would be an acceptable substitute. He also says it's okay to crumble the feta/sirene instead of grating it... have you ever tried to grate feta? Just don't - it's not pretty! Make sure you rinse and dry the cheese really well (with kitchen roll), which makes it easier to crumble. If using feta, don't salt the salad because there's enough salt in the cheese. Unless unlike me, you are fond of overly salty food! I probably didn't use as much sirene as some of the Bulgarians do... but they probably don't need to watch what they eat like I do!
I used a version of my own mustard and maple dressing instead of a plain vinaigrette... this is entirely down to personal taste - I just wanted something a little sweeter which would work with the roasted peppers. If I'd used raw peppers, I'd have stuck with the vinaigrette.
Finally, peppers... I roasted a couple of red Romano peppers but Velin uses them raw. I love roasted peppers, so I think it's worth the little bit of extra time. I would never put green peppers in this though... not merely because I believe them to be the food of Satan (honest!) but because I think they would be too bitter. Yellow or orange ones would work just fine, I think, and make the dish very visually appealing.
Така че нека направим шопска салата!
Nutritional values per serving:
(Please note that these are based on the ingredients I used - your own may be slightly different)
For three people:
4 large plum tomatoes
200g romano peppers (around two peppers)
150g sirene or feta
100g red onion
20g flat leaf (Italian) parsley
15ml (1tbsp) extra virgin olive oil (plus a few squirts)
10ml red wine vinegar
5ml (1tsp) grain mustard
10ml (2tsp) maple syrup
Pre-heat your oven to around 190c... or whatever your equivalent is.
1. Prepare your peppers by cutting in half and removing the pale pith. You don't need to be too fussy about removing the seeds however... I find they actually taste quite nicely when roasted. Spray with a little olive oil, then roast in a hot oven until the skins just start to blacken. In my oven, this takes around 15 minutes... but mine seems to be nuclear-powered, so you may need to leave yours for a little longer. Do keep checking though - you don't want to end up with burnt offerings to the gods!
2. Rinse the cheese really well under cold running water, then blot dry with kitchen roll. You'll probably need to blot several times - make sure you press down quite firmly to remove as much moisture as possible.
3. Set the cheese to one side for a moment, and prepare the other vegetables (although technically two are fruits, ha ha!). Cut up the tomatoes and cucumber into bite-sized chunks, and place into a large bowl. I like chunky, rustic salads but you may prefer something more elegant.
4. Chop the onion; while I like tomatoes and cucumber pieces to be large, I like onion to be very finely chopped! Add to the bowl and mix with the tomato and cucumber.
5. Once the peppers are cooked and cooled, roughly chop them and add to the salad bowl. You don't have to peel them unless you have an aversion to pepper skin - personally, I like the little charred bits!
6. Crumble the cheese into the bowl (it's easier if you cut it into slices first).
7. Roughly chop the parsley and add to the bowl.
8. Make the dressing by whisking the remaining ingredients together until they emulsify (the dressing will get thick, and it will appear lighter in colour). If necessary, adjust to taste. Set aside for a moment.
9. Now the fun part... get your hands in there and get mixing! It's a lovely squidgy feeling!
10. Finally, add the dressing, and mix in... yes, with your hands!
I served this last night with a green leafy salad and a baked camembert (I'm sure Velin would cringe at this!) - it was incredibly nomsome! I suspect it would work equally well just with some really good fresh bread.