Your guide to the food and culture of the tropics


3 Tropical-Inspired Meals You Can Make in 30 Minutes

Quick, healthy, and delicious tropical meals: the Holy Grail of all foodies. It is often said that the best meals need time and dedication, not to mention a pantry full of special ingredients. Yet even though spending hours in the kitchen pouring love into a single meal is nothing but rewarding, there are times when you’re drooling at the mere thought of a mouthwatering asopao, at 7pm on a school-night, with a hungry brood gnawing at your heels, and a pack of frozen peas in the freezer.

Think you couldn’t possibly pull off cooking a meal? Think again!

3 Tropical-Inspired Meals You Can Make in 30 Minutes

Here are some of the most authentic tropical recipes you can make in under 30 minutes. Prepare one a day or all at once, for a fantabulous tropical dinner.

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(Photo: Flickr jeffreyw)

1. Nachos Espresso

Ever known anyone to turn down a cheese-laden plate of nachos? Neither have we.
This international crowd-pleaser is often touted as a guilty pleasure, one which was invented in Mexico during WWII and swiftly exported the world over. But with a little tweaking – both to save on cooking time and extra calories – you can turn a once-a-month treat into a weekly ritual the whole family will love.
Just 30 minutes to make and even less to devour! The key “missing” ingredients here are minced beef and refried beans. Prepare this express vegetarian version and we bet you’ll never go back to meaty nachos again.

Nachos Espresso
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 red pepper, finely diced
  • Chilies (to taste)
  • 2 cans chopped Mexican spiced tomatoes
  • 1 can chopped black olives
  • ⅔rds cup of fat-reduced shredded cheese mix (mozzarella, cheddar etc)
  • 400gm bag of tortilla chips
  • Handful chopped jalapeno chilies
  • 1 tub low-fat sour cream
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry onions, chilies and red pepper until soft and juicy.
  3. Add canned tomatoes and let it bubble away for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Take a rectangular oven-proof dish and line it with tortilla chips.
  5. Top evenly with the tomato sauce, sprinkle the jalapenos and olives, and top with abundant cheese.
  6. Place in oven for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and deliciously gooey.
  7. Remove dish from oven and serve alongside the sour cream.


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(Photo: Flickr Taran Rampersad)

2. Fry Bodi on the Fly

This dish of stir-fried long green beans is ubiquitous in the Caribbean region, and although it’s mostly served as a side dish, it can actually be pumped up a little to create a very filling one-pot wonder-meal. Bodi is a type of slightly bitter green bean found in the Central American region, but whatever green beans you can get a hold of will work just fine.

We’ll add some roasted pine nuts here, but feel free to add any left-over goodies you’re hiding in the fridge.

Fry Bodi on the Fly
  • 250gm package green beans - ends trimmed
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 very ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan, on medium heat.
  2. Add the chopped onions and tomatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, stir for 1 minute.
  4. Add the green beans, stir and close the lid, letting the green beans cook just past steaming point, about 10 minutes. This brings out the BEST flavor, without losing any of the nutrition.
  5. While the beans are cooking, dry fry the pine nuts in a separate frying pan.
  6. When the beans are ready, remove from pan and transfer to a serving platter. Salt and pepper to taste
  7. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top (or whatever left-overs you have) and serve at once!


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(Photo: Flickr RBerteig)

3. Asopao KAPOW!

Asopao de pollo is a hearty chicken one-pot stew that’s often described as a paella-soup hybrid. It hails from the Dominican Republic and is believed to be a derivative of Asian congee. By now, you’ve worked out that the fastest meals are the ones you can make in a single pot, so this dish is a perfect fit. It’s got chicken, ham, wild rice, olives, and a concoction of aromatic herbs and spices. What more could anyone want in under 30 minutes?

Asopao KAPOW!
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 x chicken thigh fillets, diced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 can diced tomatoes & juice
  • 1 cup uncooked wild rice
  • ½ cup diced leg ham
  • 1 tbsp. green capers
  • ½ cup pitted green olives
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat the oil on high heat in a heavy-based frying pan (for which you must have a lid) and add the onion, pepper, and crushed garlic. Stir until soft.
  2. Add the chicken and cook, stirring often, for about 6-8 minutes. Add the oregano.
  3. Reduce the heat and add the tomatoes, letting them bubble over for two minutes.
  4. In one swift move, add the wild rice, ham, capers, olives, water, white wine and stock cube.. Stir well for at least two minutes, until the mix starts to bubble. Make sure the stock cube is dissolved before placing the lid on top.
  5. Cook, on low heat, for 10 minutes, without lifting the lid. This will allow the rice to cook about twice as fast as through the boiling method.
  6. Open the lid and add the peas, simmering for only 3-4 minutes. The rice should be cooked and (almost) all the liquid evaporated.
  7. When ready, take off the heat, sprinkle the coriander on top. Do taste the asopao before adding any extra salt and pepper. The olives, capers, and stock cube should actually be enough seasoning.

Written by

Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 11 years. She’s tour guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and is now, along with her partner in love and travel, riding a motorbike from Germany to Australia. Laura moonlights as a freelance travel writer and, between adventures, loves sharing her travel ramblings on her personal website:Laura's Travel Tales