Some Indian recipes ask the cook to fry a very small quantity of dal, e.g. "3/4 teaspoon of urid dal", at the beginning of cooking a dish which doesn't otherwise contain dal. Examples here and here, and I have enough examples in my cookbooks to verify that this way of starting a dish is both traditional and not limited to a particular dish.
I made such a dish a week ago (from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe), and I can't say that the browned dal was in any way detectable in the finished food. So ... what's the point? Why fry 1-2 tsp of dal like it was a spice? Is this maybe a way of testing when the oil is hot enough?