I know what you’re all thinking: “Labor Day is in September and not on May 1”. Well, Europe (and many countries around the world) celebrates Labor Day on May 1 with picnics, parades and, at least in Romania, with grilled specialties and liters of beer. For us Romanians, May 1, which is an official holiday, also represents the beginning of the holiday season. Even if Romanians don’t instantly flee on vacation on May 1, they do flock to the seaside or to any good-green spot with friends. But, whether we’re in the city, countryside or seaside, we are barbecuing on May 1. While at the Black Sea Romanians grill mainly fresh fish and oysters, the rest of Romania grills the usual suspects: mititei, pork steaks, sausages and chicken drumsticks.
You can’t have Labor Day without Mititei. They are a must! Mititei or mici have been associated with Romanian cuisine since the 1800s. In 1865, “La Iordachi” was a popular inn in Bucharest that was well known for its tasty sausages. But the legend says that one night the kitchen ran out of beef sausages, so they mixed the ingredients left over, rolled them into small sausage shaped patties, and grilled them on charcoal without the usual casing. Customers loved them so much that they asked for more of “the wee ones without skin”. Since then, these new little grilled sausages have been known as “mititei”, “mici” or “the wee ones” (Taste of Romania by Nicolae Klepper).
My family was no exception on Labor Day. We didn’t go on a picnic but opted for our own back yard, which by May 1 was in full bloom. The grill used to be my grandfather’s job and forte; now it’s become my father’s, although my mom always likes to lend a hand. We took the grill out of storage, gently positioned it on the less than perfect pavement so that it wouldn’t tediously wiggle all the time, and lifted the heavy top to throw in some wood slivers; and waited for the fire to light up. When the flames could barely be contained, we added the charcoal and put back the heavy worn out top; we brushed the top with an old brush that could be as old as I am, then greased it with a thick piece of lard, which only teased the fire and caused the surface of the grill to sizzle nervously, and engulfed us in a dense cloud of smoke. Yes, we were all set to grill!
First up were the mititei. Twenty restless little sausages were dancing on the grill and in no time they had their proper color and grill marks on. They were done and ready to be eaten. Next, the pork steaks blanketed the grill followed by the paprika seasoned chicken drumsticks. The air was filled with whiffs of char, fat, and sizzling meat; and you were instantly hungry. Eventually, we sat down at the table and devoured the meat selection along with a generous side of crispy golden french fries and a dollop of mustard, and a vast glass of well cooled Romanian beer. Just what you needed on a sunny Labor Day! Here’s a great recipe for those juicy Little Grilled Sausages. Maybe you'll try something different this 4th of July!
Mititei (Little Grilled Sausages)
Adapted slightly from Taste of Romania by Nicolae Klepper
· 2 lb. medium-lean ground beef (you can also use ground pork, lamb, veal or a combination of meats)
· 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
· 2 Tablespoons water
· 3 garlic cloves, minced
· 2 teaspoons baking soda
· ½ teaspoon dried thyme
· ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
· ½ teaspoon Hungarian paprika
· 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
· 2 teaspoons salt
· 1 teaspoon black pepper
Place the meat in a large bowl, and add all the ingredients. Mix well and knead the mixture with your hands for about 5 minutes, wetting your hands often. This is important because the water from your wet hands mixes with the meat and helps keep the mititei moist. Cover the bowl with foil and refrigerate at least 5 hours or overnight.
By Tablespoon, with damp hands, make small meatballs; then roll between your hands into sausages about 4” long and 1” thick. Cut off edges to form little cylinders.
Grill or barbecue, turning the mititei frequently to cook evenly. While they cook, drizzle frequently with water to keep them moist. They should be ready in about 10-12 minutes. Don’t overcook them.
Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)