Gestalt theory and how to build a better breakfast burrito

Back in my college days, I was a graphic design major, and, between bowls of ramen, I seem to remember a few classes. A few of the things I remember learning have stuck with me, like the gestalt principles of design. If you look up the word gestalt, you’ll find it’s a noun describing a “unified whole” perceived as more than the sum of its parts. In the world of design, the idea is that you can take shapes which mean less on their own, then group, divide, or play with them to create something greater, and more meaningful.

The more I thought about it, the more I saw the concept of gestalt applied to cooking. Sure, you can eat your ingredients individually, but will tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and basil ever taste as good on their own compared to the beauty that is a homemade marinara sauce?

Of course, not all ingredients go well together, which is why it’s so important to practice and learn from examples. One of my favorite examples of gestalt gone right is the humble breakfast burrito.

Oh Beautiful Breakfast Burrito

Imagine it’s morning, and you’ve been procrastinating since you woke up. Occasional sips of coffee clear the haze from your vision, but not the hunger coming from your belly. You hear that first whiny creak from around your navel, like an old boat that has spent too much time on the water. Not long after that, you’ll hear it again … this time a little more insistent.

My view is that in addition to being darn tasty, a well-placed breakfast burrito shuts up that crying belly better than reruns of The Price is Right. You begin with ingredients that taste great on their own and make them tastier by combining them in a tortilla. It’s gestalt, baby.

I start, a little unconventionally, by making a dinner casserole:

  • four eggs, beaten
  • a pound of breakfast sausage, cooked
  • a cup and a half of finely diced zucchini and yellow squash, raw
  • half a finely diced onion, sauteed
  • a teaspoon of butter to saute the onion (you could also use canola oil)
  • a cup of cubed cheddar and pepper jack cheeses
  • two and a half cups of brown rice, cooked
  • a half cup of water
  • about a teaspoon and a half of salt to season the vegetables

Cook and saute as directed, then mix all the ingredients in a big bowl. Oil a 9 x 13 casserole dish, pour in ingredients, cover, and bake 35 minutes at 400ºF. Remove the cover and cook for another 15 minutes. Out will pop a delicious casserole, which you will eagerly enjoy. Each blissful bite of casserole will combine the flavors into something new and wonderful.

I like to eat the casserole with some cornbread while enjoying a cold beer. Then, the next morning when my stomach is grumbling, I enjoy it with tortillas as a breakfast burrito:

  • take the casserole leftovers out of the refrigerator and cut a piece that looks like it might fit nicely into two small tortillas
  • plop it into the microwave for a minute and a half
  • quickly set the tortillas on the recently heated leftovers
  • spoon the casserole into the tortillas after they’re nice and pliable from being steamed
  • roll up the little casserole into your new breakfast burrito

It will all come together in a nice hand-held package. You may want to top the burrito off with some diced tomato and a dash of hot sauce. Breakfast nirvana.

9 comments posted

  1. Posted by Kim - 01/19/2011

    I LOVE this idea! So simple and it makes for a super quick morning. Thank you for sharing it!

    Kim :)

  2. Posted by Keter - 01/19/2011

    I have the fastest ever recipe for breakfast, but it doesn’t involve a tortilla. I put instant grits in a bowl and cover with water sufficient to cook. I break two eggs into the water. If I have any leftovers suitable (chili is particularly good, so is sausage), I drop that in, too, otherwise I add a pat of butter and a sprinkle of grill spice (salt, pepper, other seasonings). After 4 minutes in the microwave, and one minute cooling, I have cooked grits topped with poached eggs in a sauce.

    The cooling step is to let the grits finish absorbing and to let the eggs settle. If you mess with the eggs before they’ve settled, they can contain steam pockets that will explode and make a mess.

  3. Posted by Matt Fetissoff - 01/19/2011

    Keter: Sounds dangerous but yummy. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Posted by Becca - 01/19/2011

    A trick I learned from work: if you put a thin layer sour cream or guacamole on the edges before you roll the tortilla and heat it in a frying pan once it is rolled (a little bit of oil to keep it from burning, just enough to brown each side) it tastes even better. Plus, it stays together better!

    Of course, this does involve another pan if you are using the casserole method, so that may defeat the purpose of the post. :-)

  5. Posted by Adam Snider - 01/19/2011

    Quick, simple, and delicious. Sounds perfect!

  6. Posted by Stephanie - 01/19/2011

    Sounds wonderful! If I used yellow zucchini, I might even be able to get it by my weird-o picky shorties. They are suspicious of burritos in general, so I guess the only one who would be making breakfast burritos out of it is me… but that’s ok too. :-)

  7. Posted by Kai - 01/19/2011

    Better yet, Breakfast burritos freeze extremely well.
    I usually cook up massive batches of eggs, meat, and veggies, roll up a huge mass of them, and put them all in the freezer. It’s really easy to grab in the morning, microwave for a minute or two, and then eat on the go. My husband also frequently grabs them frozen, lets them stay that way on the way to work, and then heats and eats when he gets there.
    I do a few different things at a time too, so that we can change them up and not have the same thing every day.
    Some I’ve used:
    ~scrambled eggs, cubed ham or bacon, coloured peppers, tomato, and green onion
    ~scrambled eggs, black beans, ground beef (optional), cooked green and chili peppers, salsa
    ~eggs, spinach, zucchini, green onion, tomatoes

  8. Posted by Living the Balanced Life - 01/20/2011

    This looks like a good recipe for me to try (with some modifications)! I have been trying to come up with some lighter alternatives to typical breakfast fare. Something along the lines of a crustless quiche that could be precooked and reheated. Think I will give this a try!
    Assess your life for stress

  9. Posted by Adam Snider - 02/18/2011

    I finally got around to trying this yesterday/today. I made a frittata last night for dinner and then used some of the leftovers in a burrito this morning, using the technique you described (the genius part is using the re-heated casserole to steam the tortilla…I would never have thought of that on my own).

    The result was a quick and easy breakfast. I’ll have to do this more often, as I have a bad habit of skipping breakfast.

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