There are few Middle Eastern dishes that have spread as thoroughly as hummus and baba ghannoush. These appetizers (in Arabic, meza), the first a savory chickpea puree, the second a smooth charred-eggplant fusion, are so popular that Greek diners have borrowed them to bulk up their sales and, elsewhere, packed theme restaurants serve nothing but variations on these classics.

"In the Levant, you always have meza – an assortment of hot and cold small dishes, stewed and pickled vegetables, salads, composed little dishes, turnovers – before lunch and dinner," says Philippe Massoud, Lebanese chef-owner of the upscale Ilili restaurant in Manhattan's cool Flatiron district.

Massoud, who fled Lebanon (with nearly a million others) during its horrific 15-year civil war and later returned to study under the country's great chefs, believes that hummus should be a simple study in balanced flavors. "It's the perfect mix of [well-hydrated] chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, and tahini," he says. For baba ghannoush, most important are the fire-roasted smoky flavor and the eggplants bought in season (May through August). Below are Massoud's recipes for both. Each will give you a smooth, silky taste of the Middle East.

Hummus
Makes 4 servings of about 1 cup each
or 8 servings of 1/2 cup each as an appetizer

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas
3 tsp baking soda
5 fl oz imported tahini
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
5 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
Optional: 2 medium cloves garlic, quartered
3 oz ice water (for pureeing)
1/2 cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Spanish or Lebanese)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Lebanese flatbread or pita bread
Optional garnish: sautéed pine nuts and sliced, sautéed jalapeño peppers

Instructions
1. Soak the chickpeas overnight. The following morning, throw out the old soaking water and add the same amount of fresh soaking water; put in the baking soda, and continue soaking for a total of 24 hours. This will ensure well-hydrated chickpeas that yield a silky texture.
2. Rinse and drain chickpeas. Place in pot and cover with double the volume of water, about 12 cups. Bring to boil, and reduce to low simmer. Cook for 2 hours, checking water occasionally to make sure it hasn't cooked away. Remove 1 cup of chickpeas and place in cold water to reserve for later as garnish.
3. Continue simmering one more hour. Remove chickpeas from heat and rinse with cold water; strain, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours. Place all ingredients in a food processor, including garlic (if desired), and puree until smooth and homogenous, but not runny. Taste and, if necessary, adjust salt and the balance of chickpeas, tahini, and lemon juice. Refrigerate until ready to serve. If using fresh garlic, which induces fermentation, hummus should be consumed right away and not stored.
4. To serve in the Lebanese home-style manner, place all in one bowl or plate so that up to 8 diners can scoop up desired quantities with torn bits of thin Lebanese flatbread or grilled pita bread. Or place in 4 to 8 individual appetizer dishes. Garnish with little sprinkles of paprika, reserved chickpeas, and top with olive oil. If desired, scatter sautéed pine nuts and slices of sautéed jalapeño peppers over all.

Baba Ghannoush
Makes 4 generous 1/2 cup servings as an appetizer

Ingredients
6 1/2 pounds of large eggplants
3 1/2 oz imported tahini
1 tsp kosher salt
4 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp + 1 tsp eggplant water from roasting
1/2 cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Spanish or Lebanese)
1 tbsp minced parsley
4 tbsp pomegranate seeds

Instructions
1. Poke the eggplants with a skewer, at least 9 times each. On an open-flame gas burner or a grill, roast the eggplants 7 minutes on each side, or long enough that skin becomes so charred it almost turns to ash; this gives pulp the desired smoky flavor. Place on sheet pan, and cook an additional 20–45 minutes at 375°F; remove and allow to cool. Eggplants will release sugar and juices, which will be reincorporated for maximum flavor.
2. Use a large spoon to remove the eggplant pulp from the skin; place pulp in a container. Rinse hands a few times to make sure no charred eggplant skin is mixed in with the cooked pulp; with the spoon, remove the (sometimes bitter) seeds from the eggplant pulp. Cover and refrigerate for two hours, conserving the juices.
3. Combine remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl, and whisk until well incorporated. Take the cooled eggplant pulp out of the fridge and mash with a fork. The eggplant meat should appear broken up, but not fully pureed. With a spoon, mix mashed pulp well with other ingredients to achieve a smooth texture. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
4. To serve in the Lebanese home-style manner, place all in one large bowl or plate so that up to 4 diners can scoop up desired quantities with torn bits of thin Lebanese flatbread or grilled pita bread. Or place in 4 individual appetizer dishes. Create a well in center. Garnish with a little minced parsley, drizzle olive oil into the well, and add pomegranate seeds in the center of the plate.