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cooking Indian spices without oil

hi all,

I just posted a favorite recipe for dal which, like most Indian food
recipes, contains a step where the spices and maybe some onions are
cooked in a separate pan before adding them to the dish. Traditional
recipes use several tablespoons of oil or ghee to cook the spices,
which is far too much for a fatfree recipe. However, when I totally
omit all the oil, I either burn the spices, or the seeds never get
hot enough to pop (mustard seeds in particular seem to need the high
temperatures produced by heated oil to pop), or I end up cooking the
spices with a little water and the onions, which works ok, but usually
results in a slightly bitter aftertaste (at least I think so). The dish
is still good, but the full-fat versions seem much spicier to me.

My personal solution has been to use a very small amount of oil,
1/2 - 1 tsp, to cook the spices, then add the onions and water, and
cook until the onions are soft and translucent. This ends up adding
2-4 grams of fat to the entire dish, or somewhere between 1/4 - 1/2
gram per serving. I would like to go that last step, though, and
remove all the oil from my Indian cooking, and still retain the full
flavor of the spices without the slightly grainy bitter aftertaste
that occurs.

So, is there anyone out there who understands Indian cooking and/or
spices enough to make some suggestions? For example, I know that
most seeds usually need to be heated to a high temperature to pop
and release their flavor, and I have yet to find a way to do this
without oil. Also, frying spices in oil seems to take the "edge" off
some of the more pungent ones, like cumin, which probably why the
totally fatfree version sometimes has the aftertaste.

T Sconyers