Bulgarian Salad (Salată Bulgărească)

When I was doing my MA in London, I met a girl whose last name was Mihai.  Her first name was very Romanian sounding as well.
“Hi, I’m Suzy.” I smiled “My mother is Romanian.”
She answered me in English, “I don’t speak Romanian.”
“What?” I balked.  She was as Romanian as they get, I would have guessed she was Romanian even without hearing her speak or knowing her name.
As I got to know her better, she took the liberty to advise me “You know, you aren’t really Romanian, it’s only your mother after all and you have a Greek passport, just tell people you’re Greek.” (Obviously this all happened way before the current financial crisis) As if admitting to be a Romanian or even part Romanian was tantamount to saying “I like to pick my nose in public.”  And that people were going to give me wide berth once they knew.In spite of her advice, whenever I meet someone and they ask me where I am from, I hit them with the “I was born in Kuwait, my father’s Jordanian, my mother’s Romanian and I was raised in Greece.”

I am surprised by how many people don’t know where Kuwait is (over Saudi Arabia, invaded by Iraq in the first Gulf War, a country which in August can reach temperatures of 55°C).  And since the Middle East is like the dark side of the moon for most Western people (although I find overall perception of Arabs is improving since the start of the Arab Spring), the part they latch on to is the Romanian part.  (And Eastern and Southern

Europeans are now more than ever becoming the new target for xenophobia, see Simon Kuper’s article ‘Meet Europe’s New Scapegoats‘)

“So Romanian huh? They have a big problem with orphans? And stray dogs? And prostitution? And corruption?”  I am assaulted by a barrage of negative associations and I understand why Romanians often skirt around their nationality but it also really bugs me. Enough already!

There is a little bit of that going on in Berlin, sometimes when I am introduced to someone new at a party, the next comment, whispered with a shifty look is “She / he is East German.”  ”And?! So Freaking What! What exactly does that mean?  Hide my silverware?

The reason I bring all that up is because Romanians have some fantastic dishes. It’s true you should never, never give them a vegetable because they will boil it and stew it until it’s unrecognizable.  And they know of only one herb, dill, which they put into almost everything.  Oh but they make a fish roe salad (‘salată de icre’ also known as taramosalata) which is mental.  Or cabbage rolls (which uses pickled cabbage) stuffed with pork, in a tomato sauce, with dill (of course), often served with mamaliga (soft polenta) and topped with smântână. I see smântână translated as sour cream and sure, the two are certainly related but they are NOT the same thing at all. Or Papanasi, a donut made with unsalted cheese served with a loose compote of sour cherries and more smântână.  Best fried dessert EVER!

And I know precisely, none of these recipes.  My mother never cooked Romanian food and when I ask my grandmother how much salt to put in the pickling liquid she says “Well it depends on how salty your salt is.” Alrighty then…That leaves me with Salată Bulgărească which despite its reference to Bulgaria is one of the most eaten salads in Romania.

It’s not a sophisticated salad, by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, with a favouring for the ingredients to be stacked one on top of the other, it looks positively seventies. Especially when topped with a sprig of curly parsley or a solitary olive.  The whole thing is topped with finely grated Telemea which is effectively Romanian feta (the Bulgarians have one too called Sirene).

You don’t pre-dress this salad.  Rather, you help yourself to the sunflower oil (I use olive oil) and the vinegar so rough it catches you in the back of your throat and sends fumes up through to your nostrils.  You eyeball the quantities which means that sometimes you get it spot on and other times not.  I love the liquid that pools at the bottom of the salad bowl.  It’s almost as good as the salad.  Like a vinegary gazpacho, slightly gritty with floating pieces of Telemea. Although you should know,  I used to drink pickle juice out of the jar so clearly I have no aversions to vinegared things.

Bulgarian Salad (serves 1)
1/2 a cucumber cut in half lengthwise and then in half again lengthwise and sliced
2 large, 4 small tomatoes, sliced so they release their juice
1 small white pepper (they have these in Germany and lend a lot of authenticity to this salad) or 1/2 a yellow pepper
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
1/2 a head of lettuce, sliced into finger width ribbons
a slice of ham sliced into ribbons
some dill if you’ve got some growing in your window boxes
50g of Feta, finely grated
a few olives

1. Start with a layer of lettuce. Followed by the cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. Salt and pepper the vegetables lightly as you go.
2. Add the ham and egg layers.
3. Top all with a snowy mountain of feta and throw on the olives.
4. Serve with vinegar and oil.

12 Responses to Bulgarian Salad (Salată Bulgărească)

  1. Jeroen says:

    Funny that every Balkan country has a version of this delicious, simple, highly seasonal salad, but they all name it after another country, usually Greece. Only the Greeks don’t name it after any other place because, well, they’re Greeks.
    I had my best Balkan salad ever in a dodgy roadside restaurant in Albania.

    • It’s a classic combination for sure, I like how the cheese is grated in this salad, it mixes well into the salad. Unless of course you are one of those people that doesn’t like brined cheese - in which case - AVOID!

  2. Anna says:

    Looks fast and easy to make. Will definitely be bringing this to a picnic this summer.

    (We are so ready for a change of season!)

    • Yes, in fact I wrote / ate / photographed this, this summer but seasonality be damned! I need summer vegetables now! I am perfectly happy to wait for the asparagus and berries and morels - wait, have I seen morels here?

  3. People are people. Full stop. I was outraged reading your post riding home on the tram yesterday, thinking to myself, how ignorant of people to judge based on cultural stereotypes/heritage/race/background. What do any of those things matter in the year 2012? As a Canadian living in Prague, I notice these “joking” remarks all the time about other nationalities and always question, why make the joke in the first place? It just further perpetuates the identity.

  4. Marci says:

    Lovely post, Suzy. I don’t like people who negate their Romanianness either or who forget their mother tongue. I’ve always been extremely proud of it, and at any rate, I always feel that we should be the positive representatives of our heritage - and it is a fantastic heritage. My 10 month old son was born here in London, and I would never speak any other language to him but Romanian so that he knows who he is and also has a bilingual advantage in life.

    Although I don’t agree with your comment about vegetables! — salata de vinete, ghiveci de vara (better than ratatouille in my opinion), dovlecei pane, salata de conopida sau de fasole verde cu lamaie si usturoi, etc etc etc. There are lots of great veg dishes, really!

    Anyway, great blog! I really enjoy it, especially as I just recently discovered that Berlin is one of the most fabulous cities in the world!


    • Thank you Marci -

      That’s true, those vegetable dishes are delicious. Also those green peppers that are grilled and served in vinegar. I mean that they don’t have too many dishes where they gently cook the vegetables, like for example pea stew is cooked until they start to shrivel up and lose their green colour (how my grandmother makes it) which actually is not a terrible result, it somehow makes them sweeter but they lose a lot of nutritional value like that.

  5. I was reading your blog. It never crossed my mind you were having Romanian blood, so there it was a bit of disorrientation-but I am glad you are. I like to slam that in people’s faces, especially those that are a bit iffy about the subject.

  6. Kamen says:

    Funny thing but Jeroen is right - in Bulgaria we call the version with ham “Greek salad” :)

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