Mititei (deriving from 2 Romanian words meaning “small things”) is a traditional Romanian dish of grilled ground meat rolls made from beef (sometimes mixed with lamb and pork) and spices such as garlic (The Romanian province of Transylvania is the original home of the Vampyr, after all!), black pepper, thyme, coriander, anise, savory and sometimes a touch of paprika. Sodium bicarbonate and broth or water are also added to the mixture to enhance the texture. Think of them as a sausage without a casing and you’re basically correct.
Since Romania was under Turkish rule for many years as a part of the Ottoman Empire, their use of a multitude of spices reflects a strong Turkish and Asian influence – it also means that Romanian recipes are an intriguing harmony of Western and Eastern influences.
The journalist Constantin Bacalbașa wrote in his book Dictatura gastronomică that mititei were invented one night at an inn called Iordache on Covaci’s street in the old Bucharest, held by a Transylvanian named Ionescu Iordache, who was famous for his sausages. One evening while he was missing sausage casings, he laid the rolls of meat directly onto the grill. Nowadays, they are sold both freshly grilled in restaurants and pre-made (raw but unfrozen) in grocery stores.
My version of mititei are made only from beef and my own special blend of spices, but are otherwise true to the original Romanian recipe. They are certainly best cooked on a charcoal grill, but are nearly as celestial cooked in your kitchen – go with what feels right, just have a cold beer at the ready to accompany these bad boys!
I hope you enjoy these as much as I do, Citizens! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 lbs. medium-lean ground beef
3 tbsp. top-quality beef fat, rendered
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. beef broth
5 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste
2 tsp. bicarbonate of soda (don’t skip this, it is a necessity to achieve the correct texture!)
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried Summer Savory
1 tsp. crushed hot red pepper flakes
½ tsp. hot (not sweet) smoked Paprika
½ teaspoon freshly ground allspice
½ teaspoon freshly ground cumin
1 tsp. caraway seeds, ground
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Place ground beef in a bowl and add all the other ingredients, in the order listed. Mix well, then knead for at least 5 minutes (preferably more), wetting the hands frequently (this is important as this water helps keep the mititei moist).
Place mixture in a bowl, cover for a minimum 5 hours or preferably overnight.
By the tablespoonful and with wet hands, roll the mititei into meatballs, then into a sasuage shape 3″ long by 1″ wide, approximately.
When ready to cook, heat a pan or use an outdoor grill. A cast iron grill pan over medium heat which I leave for about 10 minutes to heat up is just about perfect. Note that if it is not hot, the meat will stick – use tongs and not a fork to turn these! Cook the mititei without any oil for about 2 to 2 ½ minutes on all 4 sides.
Serve inside a bread roll (scoop out some soft part of the roll) with brown mustard and topped with pickled and drained red onions mixed with strips of roasted bell peppers and herbs of your choice. Add a cold beer to go alongside if you’re so inclined.