I’m so excited to welcome A Curse of Roses author Diana Pinguicha back to the site today to celebrate the release of her debut, and to discuss the delicious food in it! The f/f YA fantasy just released yesterday from Entangled Teen, and if you click on the title above, you can check out the first two chapters right here on LGBTQReads. Already read and loved them? Then read on to learn about its culinary delights!
Disclaimer: I love food. I’ve always loved cooking, and baking, and some of my best memories are with my grandma Nini, who was an out-of-this-world cook. I still think she had some sort of magic in her, because every dish she touched came out delicious. She was also notoriously bad about writing down her recipes, because, well… she didn’t follow any, not really. Portuguese people don’t do measuring cups, or instructions when cooking—we just throw stuff in with confidence and whatever happens, happens.
And, in true grandmother fashion, she’d feed me until I dropped. Much to my mom’s chagrin, since I was obese as a child, and whenever I went to my nana’s I’d come back much heavier than when she dropped me off. I believe Nana’s overfeeding came from the fact that she, much like the rest of my family, starved during the dictatorship, and once she had access to food, she saw no reason not to overindulge. There would be times when I’d cry because I wasn’t supposed to be eating so much. But my nana always made me feel at ease about my weight and appetite. She said, “Fat isn’t ugly, and you’re always so happy when you eat. So eat!”
That was another aspect of her that I thought was magical. She cared only for my happiness. She was the only one who never judged me for being “a difficult kid” and would always be kind to me, even when I wasn’t kind to myself. She was also the only person who would let me just be. If I wanted to be left alone in a corner to read, or play video games, she’d let me. If I wanted to hijack the kitchen to make desserts (which she did not like to make) she’d let me. Really, I don’t have enough words to express how much I love her and miss her, and how utterly good she was.
Now that my nana has passed, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to replicate what she’d serve me. The taste is still vivid in my memories, and if I close my eyes, I can remember what her chickpea stew tasted like, her ensopado, her migas. More than anything, I wanted to honor the memories of the food she made me, and because A CURSE OF ROSES takes place in Alentejo, it was the perfect opportunity to highlight the gastronomy of my home region. I’ve mentioned above that people from my family largely starved during the dictatorship, and it’s true for a lot of Alentejo and other interior regions. The way Alentejanos had of making their food last was to add the stale bread they had lying around, and for that reason, a lot of our dishes include it. And since Isabel of Aragon’s miracle involved turning bread into roses—which was another great excuse to go all-in on Alentejo cuisine.
During my research, I also found that many Alentejo dishes have their origin with the Moors. The chickpea stew my nana made? A variation of what is now the Moroccan Harira. The broas? They’re a variation of the Arabic ghoribas. The Encharcada? It’s a variant of Qalb El Louz. The Almendrados? They’re remarkably like the Mlouwza. Which, at a time when people are trying to erase our Moor past, seemed very important for me to include.
So, the gastronomy in ACOR? It’s everything I grew up eating.
There’s açorda (which I stylized as assorda, since medieval serigraphy didn’t have the ç), which is an inexpensive dish that fed my family many a times, and that we make together every Christmas Eve at 3 am. All you need for it is garlic, cilantro, olive oil, stale bread, eggs, and boiling water. Eggs aren’t really mandatory, though. And, if you’re feeling fancy, you can add some fish such as cod.
The chickpea stew (Cozido de Grão), which is made with chickpeas, and a lot of other vegetables, such as kale, carrots, and so on. It’s also usually cooked with meat, and my grandma did it with pork. When I was younger and had textural issues with all the different veggies, she’d also pass it through an immersion blender so I could eat it, and whenever my parents told her not to, she’d just give them a smile and say, “It’s two minutes of my time, and if this helps her eat better, I’m doing it.”
Pork is another big player in Alentejo gastronomy. I mention the slaughter season in ACOR, and it’s another thing I’ve lived with. Every February, my grandparents would slaughter a pig, and the neighbors would help them with several cuts, sausages, and so on. No part of the pig went to waste—not even the blood, which is used in some dishes and sausages. The things we made with a single pork would last us almost an entire year, and in older times, the chouriço, and the toucinho, and all that, would be used as something to trade for. It was also not uncommon to have a pig the entire neighborhood took care of, and then divided come slaughter. I do not miss that part of the year, and I haven’t eaten pork in over a decade—but it plays a huge part in our gastronomy, and so, I included it.
Then there is Migas, which is literally bread you throw into a pan, and then water until it breaks up. Some people will also add the fat that’s leftover from cooking the pork—but again, I don’t eat pork, so I actually use regular water and fry it in a bit of olive oil and garlic.
Conventual sweets also make an appearance. There’s Rala Bread (Pão de Rala), which is essentially, flour, sugar, and eggs. There are also Gadanhas, native to my hometown of Estremoz, and they’re based on eggs and almonds.
There’s another aspect I had to consider, and that was what kind of food would be available to you depending on social class. Commoners would be mostly vegetarian, save for the aforementioned pork days and the occasional chicken, or some animal they hunted, as commoners were allowed to hunt in their Lords’ lands in times where food was scarce. Hunting was also another way my family had to feed themselves during the dictatorship (and they kept ferrets solely for the purpose of hunting rabbits!) Meanwhile, the nobility would be gorging on everything, from wine and meats. Sweetwater fish are also part of Alentejo gastronomy, like the boga and the bordalo—fish that are slowly disappearing because of the pollution in our rivers.
There were other dishes I wanted to include, but couldn’t due to the fact that the ingredients were not native to Europe, and could not be realistically delivered. The Tomato Soup (Sopas de Tomate) was one, as were the pumpkin Dreams (Sonhos), and the Ensopado (because it requires potatoes), and the tomatada (that’s when you cook in a delicious tomato sauce—my nana learned to make that especially for me). I also could not include cod-based dishes, which was a shame, but alas. Hopefully there will be other books set in more modern times, where I can highlight those as well.
And I hope this blog post has piqued your curiosity in our humble Alentejo food! I promise it’s as delicious as it sounds!
Check out an excerpt and/or buy A Curse of Roses here!
Born in the sunny lands of Portugal, Diana grew up in Estremoz, and now lives in Lisbon with two extremely fluffy cats and one amazing bearded dragon. A Computer Engineer graduate from Instituto Superior Técnico, she has worked in award-winning educational video games, but writing is where her heart always belonged. When she’s not working on her books, she can be found painting, immersed in books or video games, or walking around with her dragon.