Serbian Salad (vegetarian)
Long long ago when the world was young and I could still fit into my leather trousers (by far the best outfit for travelling ever invented – warm and cool like your own skin and never needed a wash…) I spent a lot of time driving about in what was then Yugoslavia. We ate at roadside restaurants where the cuisine was not at all remarkable – centring round grilled meat or some sort of tripe stew which our customer tried to trick us into eating on several occasions, to his own great amusement. One dish was found on most menus and I looked forward to it: a very simple “Serbian salad”. You can make it at any time of year but try to get the best possible tomatoes. The salty cheese sets off the sweet tomatoes, and the onions add that little bit of fire and crunch on your palate. The best Serbian salad I ever ate used home-marinated goat cheese, which I have re-created using feta, but if you don’t have time to marinate, you can just use feta from the packet.
Serves 4 as part of a mixed salad table. Timings – 15 minutes to get the cheese marinating, and then 15 minutes to put the salad together when you want to eat.
For the marinated cheese: 1 packet feta cheese (although I usually put two packs in to marinate at the same time, it’s only a tiny bit extra work and you can use it in all sorts of salads, or grilled on a slice of baguette, and it keeps a week or so in a closed container in the fridge, ready for you to use.)
100ml olive oil, 100ml light oil (sunflower or rapeseed work well, not nut oil for instance) – a clove of garlic, half a fresh chilli, teaspoon chilli flakes, a slice of lemon, teaspoon coriander seed, teaspoon crushed black peppercorns, teaspoon dried oregano, any strong fresh herbs you have to hand – thyme, rosemary are good.
For the salad:
To marinate the cheese:
Put the ingredients into a plastic container – I find one of the smaller takeaway boxes ideal. Mix up the oil with the spices and flavourings – you can adjust the flavours to your taste and the season. Take the feta out of the packet and slice it through its middle so you have half thickness slices – this is to increase the surface area and means the marinating flavours get further into the cheese. Slice the cheese so that it all fits into the container and spoon the oil around it, so it gets all over the surfaces. Put the lid on and leave in the fridge for 24 hours or up to 5 or 6 days. Turn the cheese in the oil if you remember.
To assemble the salad:
Slice the red onion and put it in a small bowl with the wine vinegar, some salt and a teaspoon of sugar, just enough to cover it.
Wash and slice some good juicy ripe tomatoes. Take out the central pith if they need it, but don’t worry. Place in a rather flattish salad bowl if you have one. Chop the parsley leaves and the spring onions.
De-seed the pepper and chop it into chunks, mix with the tomatoes.
Crumble the cheese over the top of the tomatoes, then fish the red onion slices out of the vinegar and spoon them on top. Scatter on the spring onions. Mix 4 tablespoons of olive oil with one spoon of the vinegar you used on the onions, add a grind of pepper and check the seasoning, adding a smidgen more salt or sugar if needed. Dress the salad.
Eat as part of a mixed salad table, with some salami or cold ham and some good bread.
You can make this an hour or so ahead of time, the dressing will just sink into the vegetables, and it’s robust enough to be transported in a lunch box.
A Hug from the Kitchen
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