Ralph’s Garlicky Spinach a la Dal

Thampy and I met restaurateur Ralph Oswald when we were getting ready to sell our first house. Ralph and his wife Barbara owned a beautiful house Ralph had built by hand on part of the former Folgers’ Estate in Woodside. I fell in love with the place; but Thampy and I would’ve been laughed out of the bank in our start-up days. Ralph looked at me and said, “Deepa, you are going to raise your sons here.” And that was it. He took stock in Deepa Textiles as part of our down payment; and I am not kidding when I say that over the next ten years, I worked my cheeks off, in good part to pay Ralph back.

Years after the last of the restaurants were sold—Ralph was in his eighties—you would still find him in his kitchen. He insisted food was “the great leveler.” There would be a veritable U.N. around the table, and Ralph would preside from the counter, those tireless, generous hands chopping away. This recipe, an international meet-up, is my small tribute to a man to whom I owe so much.




2 cups chana dal, rinsed well and drained


Dal base:

1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced

8 fresh curry leaves

1 teaspoon cayenne flakes

1 teaspoon turmeric 

2 cloves

1 cardamom pod

¼ teaspoon cinnamon 

1 tablespoon red or white vinegar

1 teaspoon salt


Dal topping:

5 mint leaves, stemmed and rough chopped

¼ cup cilantro, stemmed and rough chopped 

1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped

1 shallot, finely chopped 

1 tablespoon unrefined coconut oil (melted over low heat)



1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 shallots, sliced

½ teaspoon cayenne flakes

10 garlic cloves, minced

¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 cups fresh parsley leaves, chopped

6 cups baby spinach (¾ lb)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

½ teaspoon salt 

¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper


Crowning flavor: 

½ cup New Indian Gremolata

½ cup Caramelized Shallots (optional)

½ teaspoon chaat masala


Make ahead: The dal can be made ahead and kept in the fridge or frozen. 

1. Dal preparation: Put rinsed dal in a heavy saucepan. Add the base ingredients and just enough water to cover dal. Cover partially and cook, stirring occasionally until dal is tender, but still has a bite to it (about 20 minutes). Add water if needed while cooking; you can drain off any excess water when dal is finished cooking. 

2. Check seasoning. Mix mint leaves with cilantro, seeded jalapeño, and shallot. Gently stir in topping without smashing the dal. Drizzle with coconut oil.

3. Spinach preparation: Heat olive oil in a 10-inch saucepan over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and cook for one minute. Add shallots and brown lightly. Add cayenne flakes, garlic, and nutmeg. Stir for 30 seconds, careful not to burn the garlic. Add parsley and stir for one minute. Then add spinach and cook until wilted (30 seconds) or leave raw, if you prefer a salad presentation. Remove from heat. Stir in balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. 

4. Arrange chana dal in the center of a platter with spinach around it. 

Crowning flavor: For added finish, top with New Indian Gremolata and Caramelized Shallots (optional), and sprinkle chaat masala over the entire dish.




Leave a wooden spoon in the pot to prevent dal from bubbling over.

Ralph’s Spinach a la Dal complements Ammachi’s Clay pot Fish Molee or Nawabi Tuna Kebab Burger.