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Guest Post: Traditional Bulgaria

by Nick

This is a guest post from Carolyn Emigh, writer and dear friend.  She blogs regularly over at Karolinka In & Around Bulgaria.

It’s funny, when I moved to Sofia, Bulgaria three years ago, I didn’t like cucumbers. I avoided them on veggie platters and ate around them in salads. However, pretty quickly I realized that cucumbers weren’t worth worrying about especially when you move to a country where you can’t speak the language, you don’t know the Cyrillic alphabet and you don’t know anyone in the city.

I also figured that we move abroad to try new things, to test ourselves, to have an adventure and to learn to love new things. Cucumbers or краставица (krastavitsa) were an easy stepping stone into Bulgarian culture.

Now here I am sharing two different Bulgarian dishes that revolve around cucumbers.

Yield
Serves 4.
Prep Time
Total Time

Just a moment please...

Print Recipe Shopska Salad and Tarator Soup

Ingredients

  • Shopska Salad:
  • 3-4 tomatoes
  • 1 medium large English/European cucumber (if you can't find this you can use any cucumber you can get your hands on. If the seeds are too big or bitter tasting remove them)
  • 1 medium to large onion
  • 1/8 of a pound feta cheese (Greek feta is a substitution the Bulgarian cheese сирене--sirene. I've seen Bulgarian feta at shops like Whole Foods before and it's worth looking. Bulgarian feta or white cheese as Bulgarians translate this cheese for foreigners is softer and less salty than Greek feta.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil and vinegar dressing (traditionally Bulgarians use sunflower seed oil and grape vinegar but olive oil and red wine vinegar is what I used)
  • Tarator Soup:
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup finely diced English/European cucumber (if you can't find this you can use any cucumber you can get your hands on and if you think the seeds are too big or bitter tasting remove them)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3-4 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Shopska Salad:
Chop the tomatoes and cucumber into bite size pieces. Eye-ball the amounts. Your goal is to have an equal amount of tomatoes and cucumbers. Chop the onion into pieces about half the size of the tomatoes and cucumber that is unless you want a big bite of onion in your salad but I assume you do not want this.

In a large bowl mix together the tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. In terms of portions you are aiming for a ration of about 1/3 onions to 2/3 of the tomato and cucumber mixture. Crumble feta cheese on top and mix. At this point you have a choice you can dress the salad with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper or you can serve the salad and let people dress their own. This is what Bulgarians do. Anywhere I've ever been in Bulgaria you dress your own salad at the table be it a restaurant or a friend's house and then you eat this salad washing it down with a homemade grape brandy called rakiya.

Tarator Soup:
In a container with a lid mix together the yogurt, water, cucumber, garlic, dill and walnuts. Shake. Chill in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours.

Before serving, taste it and add salt and pepper accordingly. The thing that makes or breaks this soup is the size of the diced pieces of cucumber, garlic, dill and walnuts. You really want these as small as possible. I used a knife to slice and dice the cucumber, garlic, dill and walnuts because I like being in control but my mom asked me while I was shaking my soup together: Do Bulgarians really chop up everything by hand and then shake the soup? Me: I don't know. Mom: I bet you could have saved some time using the food processor.

The first dish is called Shopska salad and is the traditional Bulgarian salad. It’s a dish best made with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and feta cheese. Depending on your taste you can also add diced bell peppers and black olives. Everything is diced and combined in a bowl. Traditionally you dress the salad at the table yourself with salt and pepper, sunflower seed oil and grape vinegar. It’s light summery and very easy to make. The dish relies on ingredients that are readily available in Bulgaria during the summer–it seems like everyone knows someone growing tomatoes and cucumbers.

This dish entered popular culture during communism in Bulgaria thanks to the state tourism agency–Balkantourist. Apparently the agency thought they needed a little more than the Black Sea, the Balkan mountain range and rose oil production to really “sell” the country. Enter shopska salad–named after a region just outside of the capitol Sofia. Today you can’t go to a Bulgarian restaurant and not see this salad on the menu.

I spent my whole first year eating shopska salad every where I went. My Bulgarian friends and colleagues insisted on it and I wasn’t in any position to say no. So I ate it and ate it. By December I was sick and tired of the salad and the produce was no longer as fresh as it had been in August when I’d first arrived. Luckily by then I’d found a Bulgarian pizza joint with a walnut, pear, blue cheese and romaine lettuce salad. Now I eat shopska salad between the months of May and October. In fact, the last salad I had before flying home this summer was a shopska.

Another cucumber dish I am in love with is tarator soup. It’s a cold yogurt soup with finely diced cucumbers, garlic and dill and topped off with some chopped walnuts. Again, it’s easy to put together but what’s great about this dish is that it tastes even better after a few hours in the refrigerator. On the Black Sea, men walk through the sun-bathers selling cups of tarator as a refreshing snack in a cup. So this dish screams summer to me–sand, sun, yogurt and cucumbers. In restaurants it’s dished out in bowls and eaten with a spoon and Bulgarians shake on plenty of salt and pepper. Twenty-somethings swear by this dish as a hangover cure.

In the summer both of these dishes are served up with grilled meat be it chicken or pork shish kabobs or minced meat hamburger-like patties called kufteta.

Shopska Salad

Chop the tomatoes and cucumber into bite size pieces. Eye-ball the amounts. Your goal is to have an equal amount of tomatoes and cucumbers. Chop the onion into pieces about half the size of the tomatoes and cucumber that is unless you want a big bite of onion in your salad but I assume you do not want this.

In a large bowl mix together the tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. In terms of portions you are aiming for a ration of about 1/3 onions to 2/3 of the tomato and cucumber mixture. Crumble feta cheese on top and mix. At this point you have a choice you can dress the salad with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper or you can serve the salad and let people dress their own. This is what Bulgarians do. Anywhere I’ve ever been in Bulgaria you dress your own salad at the table be it a restaurant or a friend’s house and then you eat this salad washing it down with a homemade grape brandy called rakiya.

Tarator Soup

In a container with a lid mix together the yogurt, water, cucumber, garlic, dill and walnuts. Shake. Chill in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours.

Before serving, taste it and add salt and pepper accordingly. The thing that makes or breaks this soup is the size of the diced pieces of cucumber, garlic, dill and walnuts. You really want these as small as possible. I used a knife to slice and dice the cucumber, garlic, dill and walnuts because I like being in control but my mom asked me while I was shaking my soup together: Do Bulgarians really chop up everything by hand and then shake the soup? Me: I don’t know. Mom: I bet you could have saved some time using the food processor.

And you know what? She’s probably right. Moms are like that.

Besides checking out her blog, be sure to follow Carolyn on Twitter!

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10 comments on “Guest Post: Traditional Bulgaria

  1. So what is the recipe for the oil and vinegar dressing? I don't have a recipe for it, and am unsure what would work best. Thanks!

  2. @CGCouture I think the best thing to do is to mix the oil and vinegar in a small dish. I would use 3 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of vinegar and taste it. the dressing is not an exact science. You want the dressing to have a little bite to balance out the veggies. If the vinegar is too strong add a dash or two more of oil. Just keep in mind that Bulgarians pour their oil and vinegar on at the table fromtwo different jars so as long as it tastes good to you, you’re on the right track!

  3. I love the salad and the soup here. I could see using all sorts of varieties of tomatoes in the salad to build interest. For the Greek feta, I like to rinse it first, or it is too briney. Thank you for the two recipes, they are going in my repertoire for sure. They are also diabetic friendly too!
    My recent post Internet Tasting August 2011 #1

  4. Re the Tarator thing and the food processor, one word: just don’t! You may think you’re saving time, but you’ll really just waste a good tarator Cucumbers will turn into liquid and the rest of the ingredients won’t taste same. Trust me, I’ve tried it and the result was something like a baby puree.

  5. I happened to stumble upon this page, and I want to say thank you for bringing the best memories from home =) I hope you’re liking Bulgaria, and I can’t wait to read any other recipes you have, because as a student, I don’t know how to cook for my life… But tarator and shopskata salata are my go-to during exams… Thanks!

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