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.