A need for knoephla

Knoephla soup. Do you know what it is? If you grew up in North Dakota, like I did, you probably have at least heard of it, if not eaten it. (It’s pronounced “neff-lah” by the way.) It’s a delicious soup from the Germans from Russia tradition. What? You’ve never heard of Germans from Russia? Here, let me enlighten you.

During the reign of Catherine the Great, Russia was experiencing food shortages. So Cathy (of German descent herself) decided to invite German farmers (who were known for their industriousness and good farming practices) to come and farm in Russia to help alleviate the famines. Many of them settled around the Black Sea (modern-day Ukraine). Cathy proclaimed that they were exempt from military conscription and many taxes. Many German religious minorities, such as the Mennonites, left Germany due to persecution and were granted significant freedoms in Russia. In 1871 however, Alexander II revoked the exemptions from taxes and in 1874 from military service. Many Germans, especially Mennonites who are pacifists, emigrated to the United States. Many Germans who had settled along the Volga emigrated to Nebraska and Kansas.

Germans from the Black Sea area settled in North and South Dakota. North Dakota State University has an excellent collection on Germans from Russia, including a pretty neat recipe list. It was there that I got my recipe for knoephla soup.

Knoephla was almost ubiquitous in Fargo when I was growing up. Ironically, it was a local Dairy Queen that had the best version, a creamy broth with chicken and potatoes and onions chock full of knoephla dumplings. Kroll’s Diner used to have an excellent version as well, although theirs did not include chicken or really any veggies – just dumplings in a creamy broth. It has recently gone downhill, along with the rest of the diner (although they still make really good milkshakes).

I was going to make chicken soup anyway, but had a hankering for knoephla. I’d never made it before, so I used a recipe from the NDSU website for the dumplings and made my own version of the soup. If you’ve got some chicken thawed, it’s easy as pie.

Chicken and Knoephla Soup

1/2 to 1 lb chicken parts, bone-in, skin-on if you can
2 slender carrots, scraped and chopped
2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
2 ribs celery, sliced
knoephla dumplings (below)
2-3 tablespoons butter
salt & pepper

In a large stockpot,  simmer chicken in enough water to cover by a few inches. Add vegetables and seasonings. When chicken is done, remove from pot, pull off of bone, and chop/shred. Leave chicken out of pot and bring broth and vegetables to a boil. Add cut dumplings and put the lid on the stockpot, leaving it cracked so it doesn’t boil over. Boil for 15 minutes to cook dumplings. Reduce heat to medium-low and add chicken. Add milk to taste, then melt butter and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Knoephla Dumplings

This recipe makes a TON of dumplings, so unless you want four quarts of soup, you should probably cut it in half. Knoephla are also pretty solid dumplings, not light like ones made from bisquick.

3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk dry ingredients together and add enough water to make a soft dough (start with 1 cup, then add by tablespoons), Roll or pat out thin and cut into small squares, or roll into ropes and cut with scissors. The dumplings will almost double in size, so cut them small for bite-sized pieces.  Add to boiling stock and cook for 15 minutes.

The recipe turned out REALLY delicious. I liked having some vegetables in there too, although next time I will add more onions and add them later so they don’t fall apart so much. In fact, next time I might also go super-traditional and skip the carrots and celery too and just have onions and potatoes.

One word about this amazing, filling soup – because you’re using unsalted chicken broth (made from simmering the chicken), plain milk, and if you’re like me, unsalted butter, this needs a pretty hefty dose of salt to make it palatable. I used a little less than a tablespoon for four quarts of soup. Lots of pepper also makes this extra-yummy.

It’s been really chilly lately in the Hudson Valley, which I wouldn’t mind so much if there was snow on the ground. When there isn’t, it just feels like a really raw spring day. Which makes those solid knoephla dumplings in their thin milky broth with a little butter floating on top so very satisfying.

Have you ever made knoephla? How about other German from Russia foods?

4 Responses to “A need for knoephla”
  1. Susan Stessin says:

    Sarah! This recipe looks delicious. I love to make chicken soup, usually with matzoh balls, but these dumplings look great. I will try it without the dairy and let you know how it tastes.

    • vintagejenta says:

      Lol. Well, without the dairy it’s just chicken and dumplings! But yes, the dumplings are quite delicious. Dense, but delicious.

  2. Looks fantastic, Sarah. Can’t wait to try making it! Think I could incorporate parsnips and turnips too?

    • vintagejenta says:

      I don’t see why not, Michelle, although it will change the nature of the dish. 🙂 Like I said, I think I almost like it better just plain with potatoes and onions, chicken, broth, milk, butter, salt & pepper, and dumplings. THAT is “real” knoephla. But, as always, I feel that just about anything is up for reinterpretation. In fact, I think that replacing the potatoes with parsnips and/or turnips could be quite lovely. And totally maintains the all-white appearance.

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