Grilled “mititei” – back to the roots…

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Hi mates!

Those of you who follow my posts probably remember my origins, roots, if you like, are from Eastern Europe. Generally speaking, Russian, I would say, but being more specific, I was born in Bessarabia, a relatively small piece of land in between Moldova, Ukraine and the Black Sea. Throughout its whole history Bessarabia was a very desired trophy – it’s been conquered by Turks, Romanians, Russians and a handful of others who ruled the land for shorter periods of time… Such a mixture of cultures created a very interesting culinary fusion as well, and Bessarabia’ cooking is heavily influenced by that of the conquerors – Turkey and Romania mainly, but also Russia and Ukraine. So, today I want to show you my take on a traditional Romanian “mititei” – grilled ground meat rolls, as I remember them from my childhood.

The meaning of the name is “small one”, and that’s exactly what it is – a small sausage rolled from ground meat. An interesting fact is that dish is almost identical by the cooking technique to another dish – lulah kebab, which takes its origins from Turkey and Armenia (I’ve published the recipe here), where the ground meat rolls were skewered before grilling. This also is the exact reason why I mentioned the fiery and colorful fusion of Bessarabia cooking earlier.

So, let’s begin. For about 20 mititei meat rolls you will need:

  • 1 kg (2.5 lb) ground beef
  • 1 kg (2.5 lb) ground pork (can be a lamb, for those who keeps kosher or halal)
  • 4 medium onions
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tbsp salt (approximately, you’ll have to go by your own taste)
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp hot paprika (only if you like it spicy!!!)
  • ½ tsp garlic powder (or granulated garlic)
  • 4 tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce (yeah, I know, not very Romanian, but who cares?! It tastes great!)
  • About 1 cup loosely packed fresh parsley or coriander this one is purely optional, but works very nice as well.
  • 2-3 tbsp of olive oil, for brushing the meat.

The original recipe included also baking soda, but since I never understood why would one want to add a soapy taste to the meat, I decided to skip it 🙂

Now, step 1 – combine the onions, garlic, greens (if using), garlic powder, paprika, salt, pepper, cumin and the chili sauce in the food processor (or even a blender, if you have one big enough), and process until pureed and smooth. This is the key step – I remember my grandmother passing all the ingredients through the meat grinder, since 35 years ago in Moldova we had no food processors or blenders… The point is to ensure the meat mix is not chunky and sticky just enough to be easily shaped into rolls.

Step 2 – once you got your onion and garlic puree ready, just mix it in with the meat in a big bowl, and taste for seasoning. I have no problem tasting raw meat, but if you do, simply fry a small piece in the pan or even microwave it. The whole idea is to check seasoning and balance. Happy with what you taste? Off it goes to the fridge for about 3-4 hours at least. The reason for this is to allow the tastes blend better. You can grill it right away, and it’ll be just fine, but do take my advice, let it rest for a few hours in the refrigerator. The results will be your prize for the patience :).

Step 3 – grilling. Preheat your gas grill to medium heat. If you prefer using the charcoal, you want the ambers to get some grey ash on them before you start. Grilling on high heat will do nothing but burn your meat – you will end up having the rolls charred on the outside, but raw in the middle. So, grab a handful of the meat mix, shape it into a ball and then roll between your hands to shape it as a small sausage. Once you’ve done them all, brush the meat rolls with olive oil and place on the grilling grates. Every 3-4 minutes give the rolls a quarter turn – basically, throughout the grilling time you will need to turn them 4 times, for a total of 12-14 minutes. They are ready once the meat feels firm to the touch and no longer red in the middle.

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That’s it! Enjoy!

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