Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why, Yes, We Are From North Dakota: Knephla Soup

One thing you should know: I come from North Dakotan, German-by-way-of-Russia folk. My family left the Alsace, moved to Russia, and then left Russia for the wilds of the North American Midwest. (Well, the part of the family that didn't come over from Iceland at about the same time. Or Ireland fifty or so years before that. Or, you know, England, pre-Revolution -- yes, I could join the D.A.R.) Anyway, the Germany/North Dakota connection shines through in a lot of the Spratt/Bachman & Mellberg/McKenzie Family Cookbook 2008 recipes. Take the North Dakotan soup:
Knephla Soup
Anthony Bachman

4 qts water
1/4 cup + 1 T. chicken bouillon
5 med. Potatoes
1 c. dice Carrots
1 c. diced ham
1 small onion
2 bay leaves
Simmer until potatoes and carrots are soft


2 c. flour
1 egg
1 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
1/4 c. milk or enough to make a soft dough

Mix knephla dough together with a fork and add enough milk to make a soft dough. Roll into a quarter inch rope and snip off with kitchen shears or knife. Drop into soup and cook for 10 to 15 minutes.
Aaaah, farm food! Hearty, cheap, easy to make in large quantities. I'd eschew the bouillon, and just use 4 quarts of good chicken stock. I'm torn between calling the knephla (spelled elsewhere as knoephla) "dumplings" or "spaetzle" or "gnocchi," but whatever you call 'em, they're going to be tasty little blobs of carby goodness, and I'd wager they'd make you feel better when you're recovering from a cold.

Knephla seems to come from the German word "knopf," which means button, or knob. So, wee knobby buttons, in your soup -- an interesting image. Though some recipes call for adding milk or cream to the broth, you're going to get some creaminess from the knephla themselves -- the flour will thicken the surrounding broth somewhat. I'm tempted to throw in a hearty knob of butter to enrich the soup, myself, and if I did feel a need for more dairy, I'd go to the Irish side of my family, and open a can of evaporate milk to pour in -- it's a staple for our family's potato soup.

The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection in Fargo, N.D., has a great foodways section with links to cookbooks for sale, recipes, and articles on food culture in the German-by-way-of-Russia community. Check it out, especially if you want to see other ways to make knoephla/knephla.


  1. Supposedly, NEP-fla, according to various online sites. I'd think NEF-la, but I'm a generation or two removed from proper ND/G-b-w-o-R pronunciations.

  2. In my ex's family, it's pronounced k'NIFlees. It's all kinds of wierd to find a variation of one of the two Sacred Recipes from his family in our family cookbook.

  3. I bet ours is better by a country mile.

  4. Usually spelled "Knoephla" and pronounced "NE-fla" with soft vowels. Born and Raised in the heart of North Dakota right below Lake Sakakawea.