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Knoephla soup at University of North Dakota Terrace Dining Hall. Photo by AlexWCovington, 4 December 2006. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Knoephlasoup.jpg

The quest to create sale barn knoephla soup

As we embark on 2019, I have no New Year's resolution. I know myself better than to think that I'll follow through with something just based on the day on the calendar.

Instead, I'm continuing a journey I've been on for more than a decade now — a journey to match the knoephla soup served at Napoleon (N.D.) Livestock.

My mom sort of warned me early in my relationship with my husband of the problem that can arise when you marry a man whose mother is a good cook. She recounted the "can you make it like my mom's?" incidences of the early years of her marriage with a laugh and a roll of her eyes. She's an excellent cook, and I've never heard my dad complain, so it all worked out.

My mother-in-law also is an excellent cook, so I've heard that same comment over the years as well. Luckily for me, she's also very giving, so I've acquired a number of recipes that have allowed me to appease my husband's taste buds.

But he always has had one request that I've never quite been able to match.

I didn't grow up with knoephla soup. The German-from-Russia side of my family made kraut bierok, a yeast bread roll filled with a mixture of hamburger and cooked cabbage. It wasn't until I was in college in Bismarck that I tasted knoephla or kuchen, staples of the family I married into.

For those who don't know, "knoephla" comes from a German word that means "little button" or "little knob." Knoephla are little buttons of dough. The soup generally includes potatoes and has a chicken stock base that often includes cream or milk. (And, before I get any complaints, there are other ways to spell and make knoephla. This is the one I use.)

The first times I tried knoephla soup, my reaction was basically, meh. Take it or leave it. But I genuinely liked my mother-in-law's from the first time I tried it, and I got a knoephla soup recipe from my sister-in-law many years ago.

To me, it was excellent. Just creamy enough to be hearty and very tasty. To my husband, it was tolerable but "not as good as Napoleon's."

I remember how excited he was the first time I went to Napoleon Livestock with him. I'm not sure why he thought I'd be able to determine anything about the recipe used there. I'm no culinary student. The soup was delicious, but, as could be expected, I had no more idea how to make it than I did before I ate it.

So over the years, I've tried different recipes, generally coming back to something pretty close to the one I got from my sister-in-law.

I hit a break in the case last year when I was covering an event at which knoephla soup was served and mentioned my quest to a woman who happened to be from Napoleon. She laughed and said her grandmother had been the cook at Napoleon Livestock for years and gave me some pointers.

The first pot of soup I tried after that was a failure. I'm certain something got lost in translation from that quick conversation to the point of arrival in my kitchen. But subsequent trials have gotten better and better.

I doubt I'll ever get quite get the taste just right. I wonder sometimes if I might have to fill a slow cooker and take it to the barn to simmer to get the right atmosphere.

I'll keep trying. Even my husband concedes that my latest attempts have been good, if not quite what he remembers. It's fun to play around with my creations and see if I can make something filling and tasty, even if it's never going to quite live up to the sale barn soup.