Knephla (pronounced k-nep-fla) is a German-Russian dish with deep roots in the culinary traditions of my husband’s family. Knephla (also spelled Knoephla) is a type of dumpling, and is related to the German word Knöpfle, meaning “little knob/button”.
My husband comes from a long line of German Mennonite farmers. Most of their food traditions are borne from needing to satisfy the appetites of hard-working people who believe in the value of manual labor and eating as a community. In other words most of their dishes are simple, hearty, comforting, full of carbs, and delicious!
I have an original copy of a community cookbook published in 1959 by the Harvey (North Dakota) Mennonite Brethren Church that belonged to Ryan’s grandma. Harvey Mennonite Brethren is the church my father-in-law attended as a boy. (My husband’s grandma suggested that Ryan be named “Harvey”, thankfully my mother-in-law chose a much better name!)
Many of the recipes included were provided by immediate family members and relatives. When I read through recipe submissions I recognize so many of the last names because they written on my wedding invitations. And even though I didn’t personally know many of the women who contributed to this cooking treasure, I feel a connection to them when I make the same foods in my kitchen that they prepared in theirs over half a century ago.
Reading through the recipes in this book is like discovering a time capsule. All of the recipes were submitted by women, and very few have their personal name printed – most of the submissions are credited to Mrs. (insert husband’s name). Many of the recipes include ingredients, but very few cooking instructions. I think there was an assumption that everyone using the book would know what to do. And the book includes a large section on salads, but almost all of them include Jello.
If you want to make a cozy, home-cooked meal for your kin on a wintry night, Knephla is a great choice. It is also is a great way to use leftover holiday ham. And the recipe doubles well if you are cooking for a crowd.
KNEPHLA (Serves 6 – 8 people)
For Dumpling Dough:
- 2-1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- Cold water
- 2 Tablespoons bacon drippings (preferred) or butter
- 1 medium yellow or brown onion, minced
- 2 – 3 cups of chopped or cubed ham (leftover holiday ham is best. But you can use a ham steak, browned in a skillet to give it more flavor.)
- 1 cup full-fat sour cream
- 2 – 3 medium russet potatoes
- 4 Cups water
- Freshly ground salt & pepper to taste
- Combine 2-1/2 cups flour and salt in a mixing bowl, and whisk to combine.
- Break egg into a measuring cup, then fill with cold water to make 1 cup. Whisk just until blended.
- Add egg mixture to flour mixture. Use hands, or a standing mixer with the dough hook attached, to blend and knead until dough becomes stiff and smooth. Add up to another 1/2 cup of flour if dough is sticky.
- Let dough rest for at least 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, pour bacon drippings or butter into a large skillet. Place skillet on medium heat and once oil is heated, add minced onions. Stir until lightly browned and soft. Add chopped or cubed ham, stir gently until heated. Add sour cream, stir until just combined. Salt & pepper to taste. Turn heat to lowest setting and set aside.
- Next, peel and chop potatoes into chunks (approximately 3/4″ cubes, but this step doesn’t have to be precise or perfect. This is farm food. It is not necessary to spend too much time on this step.)
- Place chopped potatoes into a large stock pot filled with 4 cups of water. Salt water to taste and bring to a boil.
- Break off a lime-sized piece of dough and roll it in your hands into a snakelike shape that is approximately 6″ long and 1/2″ in diameter. (Again, see note on step 5. Also see photo at the bottom of the recipe.)
- Cut 1/4″ pieces into boiling potato water. (I know I sound like a broken record, but don’t spend too much time on this step. The pieces do not need to be exactly the same size. Do this step as quickly as you can without snipping yourself with the scissors! Also see photos at the bottom of the recipe.)
- If the water gets lower than one inch above the surface of the potatoes while you are snipping in dough, add more water a cup at a time.
- Once you finish snipping in all the dough, check to make sure that the potatoes are cooked all the way through and that all of the dumplings are floating at the top of the water. (The dumplings will almost double in size once boiled. If you notice any that are too large, snip them in half with your scissors.)
- Drain potato/dumpling mixture into a colander in the sink. Do not rinse. Place mixture back into the pot.
- Add ham, onion, sour cream mixture. And stir gently to combine.
- Add freshly ground salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve with a simple green salad or roasted veggies to lighten this “stick-to-your-ribs” meal!