How to make the best salad
How to make the best salad ever

One family from SOS Children’s Village Skopje spends quality family time in quarantine by growing vegetables. Read how in this story told by SOS father Vasko.

Children, do you want to eat the tastiest shopska salad in the world? I asked one day.

It was early April and we were in lockdown already for a month. I was going outside the village only for grocery shopping, while my wife Buba and our five children stayed home. The children would occasionally go outside, but only around our house in SOS Children’s Village Skopje.

Before Buba and I became SOS parents nine years ago, I grew vegetables to add to our income. It was my dream to make a greenhouse next to our SOS family home, but time never allowed it. Until now.

Once we managed to make the hygienic preventive measures a routine for the children and established a daily schooling schedule, we were left with time to fill. I thought a greenhouse was going to be a nice and useful way for me to spend time and bond with our eldest children, Erik and Tino.

To my surprise, the interest first came from the smaller ones – Maja, Marko and Viktor. When I and the village master built the greenhouse, they thought we were making a big tent. They walked around asking if we’d sleep in it and make camp fires. To keep them away from the tools and construction material, I put them on fertilizer-making duty. Erik, Tino and Viktor swept the village for dry leaves and small branches. Maja and Marko were on composting duty with mama Buba. No organic waste from our kitchen was to be thrown out.

Next, I dug a hole behind the greenhouse, we filled it with the compost and covered it with thin layer of soil. I explained to the children that by the time we get the plant beds ready and get the seedlings, the compost will turn into an organic fertilizer – food for the plants. They told every child in the village that we were cooking lunch in a hole in the ground. Few children from other houses came to ask how come we didn’t cook lunch in the kitchen. ‘No, no, you’re not listening. Oh my god, just like in class! It’s lunch for our vegetables.’ Viktor felt so important explaining the process to the other children.

Planting day was exciting. All five children wanted to take part. I taught them to poke a small hole, put the seedlings in the ground, add bit of fertilizer and water, gently pour and pat the soil around it. For them it was like a game. They were so happy. After some time, I heard them talking: ‘You’re putting too much. Your seedlings are too close. Look how I’m doing it just like dad said.’ I was so proud.

We planted onions and green peppers. Then the little ones asked if we could have the vegetables for lunch tomorrow. I said this is not a farm video game. You can’t tap the screen and have crops in 30 minutes. We’ll need to work in the greenhouse every day – water the plants, pull weeds, add fertilizer. Also, we will plant tomatoes and cucumbers in the other half of the greenhouse. I said that if we take good care of our plants, in the summer our family will eat the most delicious shopska salad in the world.

Now, all five children like to work in the greenhouse. Even when there’s not much to do, they go in just to see how big their vegetables have grown. They talk about the tastiest shopska salad all the time. Erik will tell you the recipe.

In the evenings, we make plans for the next round of crops. Stay tuned.

Erik shares a recipe for the tastiest shopska salad in the world

14-year-old Erik is an eight-grader and an avid football player.

“I play football in the local club, but since the beginning of March we cannot meet for practice. So, when I finish watching my lessons and do my homework, I’d watch football videos on Youtube. Then I’d go the football pitch in the village, which is right next to our house, and practice there alone. It’s no fun. I know this is temporary. If we all follow the rules, all children can play football together again soon.

Until then, I help my SOS dad Vasko in the greenhouse. I knew a little bit about agriculture from when dad took us to his home town and we’d go to the big fields. Now, I get to learn and grow vegetables myself. I don’t want to become a farmer, but it’s nice to know these things. It will be so awesome to eat vegetables that you grew yourself!

Before the coronavirus, I also wasn’t much of a kitchen person. I went in the kitchen only to get food or help mama Buba with the dishes. Now I have more time and mama Buba taught me how to make few simple dishes. Shopska salad is one of them. Here’s how you make it:

You need tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green peppers and cottage cheese. Some people don’t put green peppers, but in my family we like them a lot.

Wash and chop all vegetables and mix them in a big bowl. You need to have an equal amount of cucumbers and tomatoes, and half that amount of onions and green peppers. After you mix them, add salt, oil and a few drops of vinegar. The vinegar brings out the taste of the tomatoes, mama Buba taught me that. Mix again and grate cottage cheese on top. We use cow’s cottage cheese, because the little children in my home don’t like the taste of sheep cheese.

I tell you, this salad is so tasty, you won’t ask for a main course. Also, mama Buba bakes the best bread and pies. I like to dip the freshly baked pieces in the shopska salad liquid. It’s a heavenly taste! And it’s all healthy food that a footballer like me needs.

Now we make our shopska salad with vegetables from the green market. But, in the summer our vegetables will be ripe and ready for the tastiest shopska salad in the world. I can’t wait!”

Note: for privacy reasons, all names of the children have been changed.

How to make the tastiest salad in the world