One of my all-time summer-time (and other times) favorites is grilled minced meat, which Romanians call “mici” or “mititei.” It’s our alternative to the American burger and we love it! So, for this 4th of July or any other good-weather day, fire up the grill and savor these tiny delicacies (“mici” [meech] means “small”, “mititei” [mee-tee-tay’] means “tiny” or “little ones”).
There are several ingredients that make this treat special: the mix of meat – that includes lamb or mutton, the local thyme variety – which we call “cimbru,” and the pairings: fresh country bread, mustard, and a cold beer. Here is a recipe from a book my mom gave me, called “501 Recipes from the Romanian Kitchen” by Mihai Basoiu.
- 1 kg minced meat (mix of pork, mutton/lamb, beef – equal parts) – I use less pork and more lamb and beef but you need some fat because they will be dry otherwise
- 50-100 g of lard – I never add lard but it really depends on how much fat the minced meat already has – it’s up to you but just go easy on it; a good substitute would be some uncured bacon with some fat in it – Trader Joe’s has some good stuff
- ½ teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in milk
- 10-15 cloves of garlic – I usually skip the garlic or go easy on it because it bothers me; you have to mince the garlic and smooth it out by adding a bit of warm water or stock to make it into a paste
- Thyme – I use a special variety called “cimbru”; in Knoxville, you can get it at International Delicacies (8817 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37923).
Convert metric: https://www.rapidtables.com/convert/weight/kg-to-pound.html
Mix the minced meat with the minced lard and chill for a couple of hours. Mix the meat with the baking soda, pepper and garlic – minced and in paste form. Add salt and thyme. Mix well by hand and shape them in 4-5 inches long by 1-1.5 inches thick portions. Place them on a platter and chill them until you’re ready to grill them (they can keep for a day or so).
Grill them at higher temperature first, to get a bit of a crust, then reduce the heat so that the interior stays juicy. Turn the “mici” while cooking them, and keep them moist by brushing them with broth or oil if you prefer. Don’t over-cook them.
Serve alongside fresh country bread slices and horseradish mustard (or yellow mustard if you don’t like the spice). Sip on a cold beer (like Stella Artois or Pilsner).