This is a prequel to the post on Chutneys (which in lieu of my recent distraction courtesy Zynga, will take some time to come). This post is about a little box that contains all the spices you will need to make yourself a simple yet delicious Indian meal. In my mother tongue (Telugu), this box is called Populapetti. The name is a combination of two words: Popu- (read wikipedia’s piece on Popu or Tadka here) and Petti (meaning box).
The contents of a Populapetti vary slightly from household to household. My petti contains Mustard seeds, dried Red Chillies, Fenugreek seeds, Chana Dal, Urad Dal, Cumin seeds and Turmeric. Some variations contain Coriander seeds. Typically, all the ingredients with the exception of Turmeric(and the Dals in case you are making the dish-Dal) are fried in oil until the Mustard and Cumin seeds begin to splutter. And then you add a dash of Asafetida to complete the seasoning. You can either add the seasoning, oil et al to a finished dish (as in the case of Dal) or you can add vegetables to the popu and proceed towards making a simple stir-fry.