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Prairie Fare: Dumplings Bind Generations to Each Other

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
By definition, dumplings are small masses of dough that might be filled with meat, vegetables or fruit.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“I’ll bring you some kuchen after Christmas break,” one of my college friends remarked. I was living in a college dorm at the time, so homemade food was a real treat.

“What’s kuchen?” I asked, probably mispronouncing the word.

She looked at me as though I was from another planet instead of Minnesota.

“I suppose you don’t know what knoephla soup is, either,” she said with a grin.

“I bet you don’t know what potet klub is,” I retorted, naming the first Norwegian food I could think of outside of the familiar lutefisk and lefse.

At the time, I wouldn’t have known a knoephla if it nipped me on my finger.

I guess we stopped the banter at that point and went to the dining center for dinner. She brought me a piece of peach kuchen, and I liked it. I don’t recall getting a very big piece, though.

Kuchen, which is the German word for cake, usually has a sweet crust and is filled with fruit, custard or other ingredients. Having lived in North Dakota for more years than I lived in Minnesota, I now have tried several flavors of kuchen and more than one type of crust.

Knoephla is the name of a type of dumpling. I didn’t have a chance to taste knoephla soup until a few years after college while I was traveling in the western part of North Dakota. Both kuchen and knoephla soup are closely associated with Germans from Russia cuisine. Both foods are available in some restaurants and grocery stores now.

The other day I had the opportunity to tour the Germans from Russia collection at the NDSU library. I brought home a DVD featuring several women from North Dakota cooking traditional Germans from Russia cuisine.

As I watched them make various dumplings, breads and soups, my husband and daughter were making Chinese steamed dumplings in our kitchen. The previous day, I had been at a potato festival to taste my own Norwegian heritage food, potet klub, or potato dumplings.

I was inspired by these ladies. I wanted to make some knoephla soup immediately, but the kitchen was off limits with the Chinese cooking extravaganza. However, my husband and daughter, who share more German genes than I possess, kept popping in to see what was “cooking” on the TV.

I grabbed my laptop and started looking up some information about all these dumplings. Many types of dumplings are made worldwide, and dumpling recipes varied around the world according to the ingredients that were readily available.

By definition, dumplings are small masses of dough that might be filled with meat, vegetables or fruit. They can be boiled, steamed, fried or baked. Some dumplings are formed into balls from a fairly solid dough, while other dumplings are a thin dough that is dropped from a spoon into boiling soup. Others are formed into a rope and cut. Some have added egg or baking powder.

I enjoyed three types of dumplings during the weekend, but I’d have many other types to explore in worldwide cuisine. In Italy, I could taste gnocchi. I could have a pierogi in Poland, a tamale in Mexico or potstickers in China.

Dumplings are fairly inexpensive to make, and they are simple, “stick to your ribs” foods. Be cautious with your portions, though, because these dense little dough balls can be fairly “energy-dense,” especially if they are floating in butter on your plate.

I found many recipes for knoephla soup in my collection of cookbooks and on the Internet. I combined two recipes to arrive at the following. Although it might not be made the same or taste exactly the same as someone’s grandma made, it’s a hearty soup for a fall day.

Knoephla Soup

3 c. potatoes, peeled and diced

1/4 c. grated onion

1/2 c. diced celery

1/2 c. diced carrots

6 c. chicken broth

1 c. cooked, diced ham or chicken, optional

3 c. reduced-fat milk (or half and half or cream for a richer soup)*

Fresh parsley (optional, as garnish)

Place potatoes, onions, celery, carrots, meat and broth in a stockpot. Cook gently while making the dumpling dough.

  • Note: the milk (or cream) is added just before serving.

Knoephla Dumplings

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1 egg, beaten

5 to 6 Tbsp. milk

1/2 tsp. salt.

Make a stiff dough, adjusting milk as needed, and roll into 1/2-inch ropes. Using a knife or kitchen shears, cut into 1/4-inch dumplings and add to the hot broth-vegetable mixture. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add milk or cream and heat, but do not boil, then serve topped with chopped parsley if desired.

Makes eight servings. With reduced-fat milk and no meat, each serving has 210 calories, 2 grams (g) of fat, 36 g of carbohydrate, 10 g of protein, 2 g of fiber and 670 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Sept. 1, 2011

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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