Shopska SaladI was driving back to Pittsburgh the other day, and my route took me right past a farm stand.

I’m a sucker for farm stands. Car stopped, I took a stroll through some produce. When I asked what had been grown on the farm (as opposed to elsewhere in Pennsylvania), the man pointed to these gigantic cucumbers and buckets of tomatoes, so that’s what I got.

Unfortunately (fortunately?), he wouldn’t sell me just two of each. It was 5 for a dollar, and goshdarnit he was not about to go making change. Since I’d be racing the clock trying to eat these veggies, my mind turned to one thing only: shopska salad.

Shopska is arguably the best salad ever, so good that it deserves its own post.

The internet tells me that shopska is typically Balkan, named after an agrarian group of highlanders in Bulgaria. It’s fundamental ingredients are – you guessed it – naturally gluten-free. Tomato, cucumber, onion, and sirene or feta cheese. A little olive oil, vinegar if you want it, roast peppers if you want them, fresh herbs if you please.

For days that are lazy or hot (or both), few things hit the spot better. Pair it with a nice hunk of toasted gluten-free bread or some grilled chicken and a glass of red wine, and you’d have a meal worthy of inviting your neighbors.

There are plenty of sister salads all around the region and into the Mediterranean, mostly named for whichever country is doing the cooking. The same salad by any other name indeed tastes as sweet – and also gives you license to play around.

Based on what I had in my fridge and my window box, mine had:

  • two medium tomatoes, chopped into forkable pieces
  • one very large cucumber, deseeded and also rough-chopped
  • sheeps’ milk feta, maybe a deck of cards’ worth, rough chopped
  • half a medium red onion, sliced thinly
  • a glug of good olive oil
  • a few sprigs of fresh mint and one of rosemary

It goes in a bowl. You mix it (I used my hands). If it needs salt or pepper, go for it – but be careful to taste first, as the feta may be all the salt you need. As with many salads, it’s good immediately and better the next day – the flavors of the cheese and the herbs begin to meld together.

The beauty of the tomato-cucumber-onion-oil base is twofold. First, anything can go on top: swap the feta for chévre or leave cheese out entirely. Use basil and oregano. Add some peppers or some melon. Olives. Anchovies. Scramble the leftovers into eggs or puree them into soup. Whatever. You’d have to try to go wrong.

By and large, the ingredients won’t be stressful for a gluten-free eater. However, if you want to be on the safe side you can always consult our gluten-free grocery guide – in print form or ia handy-dandy iPhone app – before you fill your salad bowl.

What’s your go-to summer salad?