Kelli Burkholder King had an innate curiosity for new foods from an early age, despite a heavy meat-and-potatoes upbringing. She fearlessly treated her pallet to new foods when she could—she remembers smoked octopus as the first exotic food she tasted, courtesy of a visitor from Japan. Later, as she traveled what were once considered third-world countries, King’s interest in food grew deeper than just a taste for the exotic.
“I think that experience,” King explained, “seeing other people that didn’t have enough food or nutrients, and then wanting to do something worthwhile in the world, made me want to major in nutrition.”
She received a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. From there, she worked for 15 years in Philadelphia consulting children and pregnant women before she and her family moved back to Goshen. While working at Everence as the bank’s health and wellness consultant, King published a small cookbook titled “Simply Healthy.”
“My goal was to share meals that were easy to prepare in less than an hour, were really nutritious and tasted great,” King said.
Cooking in the King household is often a family activity. We spent an evening with King and her family as she prepared Mediterranean chicken with almond couscous, a recipe from her cookbook.
“I like Middle Eastern foods because it’s based on a more legume, grain and vegetable diet,” King said. “I don’t think people use enough interesting spices or some of the basics. I keep lemons around all the time, because you can add them to anything and likely make it better.”
Five questions with the cook:
What items do you try to keep in stock in your home?
The basics for me include onions, garlic, lemons, rice, pasta and tomato sauces…white beans, black beans, lentils, canned mushrooms and maybe olives. I think if you were to have some of those things, I could probably cook something.
What are you excited to plant in your garden this spring?
Fresh salad, like a lettuce mix that has a little bit of endives, spinach, bib lettuce and arugula.
What kitchen tool or utensil can you not live without?
A really good, sharp knife. I love Cutco. It’s amazing. I wish I had a whole set!
In your opinion, what’s the worst part about cooking?
I hate grocery shopping. I wish I could just order the food and know exactly what I wanted, because when I can’t find something I want, it’s so frustrating. My husband Jon loves grocery shopping, so I send him. I think I’ve grocery shopped too many times in my life.
Have you ever had a recipe or cooking experience that went horribly wrong?
Last summer, my husband brought home some peppers that he got from a family that runs a local restaurant. They had two kinds—one that was long and a little more blunt, and then one that was a little skinnier. The ones that were blunt were not supposed to be real hot and I tasted them and they seemed fine, so I used them to make this sweet pepper and polenta dish. I cooked them for while, but when I tasted it again, I thought I was going to die…and I love hot foods! I think when you cook those peppers with the seeds it kind of sets them on fire. I had this huge batch of red pepper stuff that I had to throw out before my family arrived in ten minutes. I think we just threw in some canned vegetables and tomato sauce at last minute.