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Exploring package interrelationships

Long term goal: *personal* definition of a minimalist Debian

current goal: grok how packages interact

current *test case*/example: a very minimal install of MATE
An illustration of the opposite of what I want is task-mate-desktop.
It's description states:
This task package is used to install the Debian desktop, featuring
the MATE desktop environment, and with other packages that Debian
users expect to have available on the desktop.In what I want only the top level menu headings [Applications Places
System] would exist. Under Applications the sub-headings [Accessories Education Graphics etc] may exist but their contents would be empty.

proposed procedure:
Do a minimal install of a CLI system.
Follow with "apt-get install" of a very minimal set of MATE components.
[Pluma, Caja, and Synaptic would be included]

Under "https://packages.debian.org/stretch/"; I have been exploring entries under task-mate-desktop, mate-desktop-environment, mate-desktop-environment-core, and desktop-base.

I'm do getting a good visualization of how to reach my goal. Something that acted on repositories as apt-cache does on the current machine's cache would be useful.

In past conversations it has been suggested that I do a typical install and just un-install the un-desired elements:

That is undesirable for two primary reasons:
1. I would not reach my primary goal of "grok how packages interact".
2. Uncertainty of what the resulting "thing" would be.
   [While channel surfing recently, I caught a visual example. A
    children's show was exploring mixing and sorting. The 1st example
    was putting colored balls in a glass bowl. There was no problem
    separating the balls into 2 sets. The 2nd example was mixing two
    glasses of water with red dye in one and green in the other. The
    mixing could not be undone.]

Comments/suggestions/readings/search terms.