Onions are indispensable to cooking in many Indian households, so much so that the humble bulb has caused governments to topple. To those for whom curries without onions seem inconceivable, I heartily recommend this recipe for stuffed eggplant in peanut sesame sauce. The sauce, with tamarind juice to give it body, is rich, thick, and entirely sans onions. I like to make this gravy when I have guests over, especially my no-onion-no-garlic folks.
You might need some patience/practice to stuff the baby eggplant right. This does take a little time but is well worth the effort.
- Baby eggplant – 10
- Peanuts – 1/4 cup
- Sesame seeds – 1/4 cup
- Tamarind – ball of 2cm diameter
- Roasted cumin powder – 1 teaspoon
- Dry red chillies – 5
- Coriander powder – 1 tablespoon
- Turmeric powder – 1/2 teaspoon
- Methi dal (coarse ground fenugreek seeds) – 1 teaspoon
- Mustard seeds – 1.5 teaspoons
- Salt – to taste
- Vegetable/mustard oil – 2 tablespoons
- Coriander leaves – for garnishing
In the picture above: baby eggplants, peanut-sesame paste, tamarind, dry red chillies.
1. Slit and soak baby eggplants
Make two slits vertically in the baby eggplants, so that each eggplant is divided into four equal quarters. Do not separate the quarters, let the joint remain at the stem.
Dip the slit eggplants in salted water. Let them stand for half an hour so that the bitterness goes away.
2. Make the masala paste
On a tava or kadhai, set the heat to medium and dry roast 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds and 1/2 teaspoon of methi dal till they begin to give off a delicious aroma. Transfer to a blender and make a fine powder.
I normally make a large batch of mustard-methi powder in advance and store it in an airtight container. Use about 1/2 teaspoon of it for this masala.
Toast the sesame seeds next along with a dry red chilly, till the sesame seeds turn a shade darker. Transfer to the blender.
Toast the peanuts next till the skin browns. When cool, rub gently to make the skin fall off. Transfer the skinned peanuts to the blender.
Make a paste of sesame seeds, dry red chilly, peanuts with mustard-fenugreek powder. [The paste you see in the picture above is taken at this stage.]
Soak the tamarind in half a cup of water.
To the blender, now add salt, roasted cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder and a bit of soaked tamarind – the thick part, not the juice – the paste needs to remain dry.
Give the blender one final run.
3. Stuff the eggplants
Wash and shake the water out of each eggplant. Dab with a tissue paper to dry. Holding each half of the slit eggplant carefully, spoon a little of the paste inside firmly and press it close. Wipe off the masala peeking out from the slit.
You will use up around half of the paste for stuffing. The remaining will go into the sauce.
4. Fry the eggplants
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a non-stick pan. Place each stuffed eggplant with the slit side facing up. Cover and cook, turning carefully every few minutes.
In about 15 minutes, the eggplants would be fried evenly on all sides. Drizzle a little more oil if the eggplant starts to stick to the bottom of the pan.
5. Make the sauce
Extract the tamarind juice after tamarind has been soaked for about 20 minutes.  Discard the pits and hard skin of tamarind.
While the eggplants are getting done, heat a teaspoon of oil in another pan. Crackle a teaspoon of mustard seeds. Then add dry red chillies, and when they begin to turn color tip the remaining peanut-sesame paste in and give it a good stir.
Follow immediately with tamarind juice, a tablespoon of water and let it bubble on high heat for two minutes, stirring continuously.
Add another cup of water , let it boil then simmer on low heat for 5 minutes. 
6. Bring it all together
Pour the peanut-sesame sauce into the pan with the baby eggplants. Cook together covered for 10 minutes, turning the stuffed eggplants carefully around once or twice to let the gravy coat it evenly. 
Switch off the heat and let it stand covered for 5 minutes. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
Serve stuffed eggplant in peanut sesame sauce with rotis/rice and raita.
 To speed up the process, microwave the tamarind water for 30 seconds. The tamarind will turn soft instantly.
 Add more water for a thinner gravy.
 If you like the eggplants to be really soft, you might want to use a pressure cooker for cooking them along with the sauce. Use the same cooker without lid for frying the eggplants. After pouring the peanut-sesame sauce, stir gently, put the lid on and let it cook for a single whistle on low flame. You’ll have to be extra careful in handling soft stuffed eggplants while serving – don’t let them fall apart.
 Looking for more recipes without onion and garlic? Check this link: no onion no garlic.