When I hear the words pasta salad, I don't typically jump for joy. I've had — and made — my fair share of mushy pasta, soaked in astringent Italian dressing and tossed with raw, flavorless veggies and cubes of bland cheese.

Oddly enough, I do get excited when cold peanut or sesame noodles pop up on my radar. For some reason, those are usually delicious, and proof that a good, even great, pasta salad is possible. Welcome to this week's recipe, Tahini Noodle Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Feta.

After testing this recipe more than a few times, here's what I've learned.

First, roasting the vegetables, in this case cherry tomatoes, intensified their flavor and reduced their moisture, which helped keep them from watering down the salad. While I had the oven going, I also tossed in some chickpeas, which became crispy during the roasting process, adding a nice crunch to the noodles.

Swapping out bottled Italian dressing for a homemade creamy, lemony tahini dressing meant that it wouldn't immediately be absorbed into the noodles. Tahini is a sesame paste, easily found in most grocery stores. The sesame flavor profile might be reminiscent of Asian cold noodles, but that's where the resemblance ends. The addition of fresh lemon juice and garlic to the dressing takes it in a Middle Eastern direction.

Another pro tip is to only toss the salad with some of the dressing beforehand, reserving a portion to toss with the pasta just before serving. This keeps the noodles from being too dry.

Speaking of the noodles, I found that rinsing them in cold water after cooking and tossing them with a little sesame oil helped to keep them from getting too mushy, and also reinforced the sesame flavor.

Adding a generous amount of crumbly feta cheese and plenty of julienne fresh basil upped the flavor ante even more.

The result is a pasta salad you'll be proud to serve to your family and friends.

Tahini Noodle Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Feta

Serves 6 to 8.

Creamy and nutty with pops of sweetness, acidity and crunch from roasted tomatoes and chickpeas, this noodle salad is sure to be the star of the show, whether it's an outdoor barbecue or weeknight family meal. From Meredith Deeds.

• 3 pints cherry tomatoes

• 2 (15-oz.) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

• 6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided

• 2 tbsp. honey, divided

• 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red-pepper flakes

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 16 oz. dried spaghetti

• 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil

• 1/2 c. tahini paste

• 1/3 c. fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed

• 2 cloves garlic, minced

• 6 to 10 tbsp. water

• 3/4 c. crumbled feta cheese, divided

• 1/2 c. julienne basil, plus more for garnish


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cover a sheet pan with foil and spray with cooking spray. On the sheet pan, stir together the tomatoes, chickpeas, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon honey, red-pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Roast for 20 minutes. Stir and continue roasting for another 15 to 25 minutes, until tomatoes are browned in spots and chickpeas are crispy and brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water, shaking thoroughly to remove any excess water. Place pasta in a large bowl and toss with the sesame oil to coat.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the tahini paste, lemon juice, remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, remaining 1 tablespoon honey, garlic, 6 tablespoons water and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk in enough additional water, a tablespoon at a time, until the consistency is thick, but pourable (like crêpe batter). Taste and add more lemon juice and/or salt, if necessary. The dressing should be assertive. Set 1/2 cup of the dressing aside.

Add the remaining dressing to the pasta and toss to coat. Add the tomatoes, 1/2 cup feta cheese and basil and toss until combined. Just before serving, toss with reserved 1/2 cup dressing.

Garnish with remaining 1/4 cup feta and more basil.

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at meredithdeeds@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram ­at @meredithdeeds.