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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?

  • It tastes slightly different, definitely not used to test wether the oil is hot enough. – Avnish Kabaj Mar 5 '18 at 5:36
  • I couldn't taste anything. For example, take the linked poha dish. It creates about 1.5 quarts of poha when finished. In that, you have less than a teaspoon of fried urad dal. This means that, on average, a diner is going to eat half a dozen forkfuls of poha before coming across even one fried lentil. – FuzzyChef Mar 6 '18 at 17:30
  • Now that's about the quantity of the dal used . I have never had poha with lots of fried dal. The taste tends to come out against bland undertones such as curd rice. Initially when I had read the question I thought it was angling towards the fact that frying the dal and using the dal directly leads to similar tastes. Frying the dal in small quantities will not create any sort of detectable taste. – Avnish Kabaj Mar 7 '18 at 0:27
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In a dry dish - eg lemon rice, or a dish following the thoran pattern - a teaspoon of urad dal will definitely be noticeable by giving a crunchy element.

Do not forget that indian recipes tend to use old school spoon sizes for measurement - a random piece of contemporary flatware will not give you a good approximation here.

Washing and soaking the urad dal for an hour or so can be a good idea if you do not know hold old the dal you are getting is (especially if cooking such dishes when not in India) - too crunchy urad dal could turn into a molar menace.

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    if random flatware won't give a good approximation, will a measuring spoon do so? Are the Indian 'old school' spoon measures equivalent to the spoon measures which are widely available in the Americas and Europe, or are they significantly different? – Spagirl Mar 6 '18 at 12:14
  • Watch indian recipe videos and see what they use for teaspoons – rackandboneman Mar 6 '18 at 12:28
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    That doesn't seem particularly helpful. I've watched a lot of Indian recipe videos, right up until my Vahchef sold out to Big Oat... Many chefs tell you to use a teaspoon of something and then just shake in an unmeasured amount from a small bowl or pot, others might just say 'spoon' and use something closer to what I would call a desert spoon'. I thought that since you knew what wouldn't be a good approximation and spoke of 'old school' I thought that information on 'old school' Indian spoon sizes might be useful to include in your answer. – Spagirl Mar 6 '18 at 16:30
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    (a) in the poha dish I just made, the urad dal was undetectable, and i used the amount in the recipe++ (b) as Spagirl says, saying that "your measurements are wrong" is pretty useless if you can give no advice on getting them right. – FuzzyChef Mar 6 '18 at 17:23
  • @Spagirl at least we agree on the Thumma-Horlick tragedy :) – rackandboneman Mar 6 '18 at 18:44

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