WE’RE here to talk about food so Almas Mir, retired teacher, mother, grandmother and great cook, tells me what she made for dinner last night: slow-cooked leg of lamb marinated in yoghurt, chilli and coriander; lamb meatballs in an onion and garlic sauce and a chicken curry. She made an extra effort, she says, because the whole family was at home in Glasgow for once so she brought out all the favourites and did them just how her children like them. Her daughters Uzma and Aasmah tell me how wonderful it was. Simple, rich, delicious.

But it wasn’t always like this. In fact, Aasmah’s relationship with her family’s traditional food – the big curries, the koftas, the bhindis – is a tricky one to say the least, a changeable one. Nowadays, the BBC Radio 4 broadcaster loves to cook a curry at home or go out and try something at the Asian restaurants in London where she lives; she relishes the flavours and the connection to her mother’s food and the old ways of doing things.

But curries weren’t always a comfort food for her – in fact, there was a time when the Saturday Live co-presenter and former Sunday Herald columnist would have eaten anything other than Asian food because, in the 1970s and 1980s Britain, Asian food was a reminder of difference – and difference meant bullying.

Both of the girls faced it. Aasmah remembers being spat at and stabbed with compasses; she remembers some of the other boys and girls holding their noses and saying they didn’t want to sit next to the girl that smelled of curry. She also remembers no-one wanting to partner her at the school dance and in the end having to dance with the teacher. For an 11-year-old girl, it was humiliating and upsetting.

At the time, both Aasmah, who’s now 44, and her older sister Uzma, who’s 49, coped by trying to fit in and for Aasmah that meant repudiating Asian food altogether; curry was off the menu; daal was banned and she would eat nothing but European food with a fork and knife like all the other kids. Even as an adult, it was the same. Aasmah Mir started her broadcasting career as an STV newsreader moving to London to work in radio, but even in her London flat, she would never cook curry. She wanted to get away, she says, and ditching the food she grew up with was one clear way of doing it.

Which makes the family’s current project all the more remarkable. This Tuesday, Aasmah will be appearing at the Wigtown Book Festival to promote the family’s website, Cracking Curries. It is a way of spreading the message that curries don’t have to be those big complicated things you see in restaurants, but it is also a celebration of 71-year-old Almas Mir’s old family recipes. Almas learned to cook as a girl growing up in Punjab in India but, after an arranged marriage, came to Scotland in 1966 when she was 21 years old to join her husband, who had opened a petrol station and car repair shop in Glasgow. She then worked as a teacher, brought up four children – Uzma, Aasmah and their two brothers – and cooked the recipes she knew: chicken and spinach, rice with cloves and cumin, doughy rotis and creamy yellow daal.

Sitting round the dinner table of their parents’ house in Bearsden, Aasmah and Uzma, who runs a production company, tell me how much they love the food. “The big thing for us is, with Asian families, it’s all about the food,” says Uzma. “That cliché is true. Food is pretty much the centre of life. Mum never did freezer dinners and stuff like that – every night, dinner was made from scratch.” There was also a Scottish nanny on hand whose culinary skills were more questionable – Fray Bentos pies, beans on toast – but it was a happy home full of happy food.

Life outside the home was much less happy though. Both Uzma and Aasmah were the target of bullies and Uzma remembers trying to fit in. “I went with the crowd and did what everyone else did; I was more chameleon-like than Aasmah – I think if you do that, you’re accepted and it’s easier. We’re very different personalities – I just want to be everybody’s pal.” Her mother’s food was also a great comfort to her at the time and it still is: the first dish she made when she left home was one of her mother’s.

Aasmah was different. “I drifted away from my mother’s food because it was the root of a lot of my problems,” she says. “It was the 1970s and 1980s, it wasn’t the easiest time to grow up anywhere in the UK but if you went to school smelling of curry then you would get picked on and I got picked on.”

More than 30 years on, Aasmah says she isn’t bitter about what she went through and in fact she says to some extent she understands why her fellow pupils reacted the way they did. “Most children who weren’t white in the 1970s and 1980s got picked on because they were something new and unusual,” she says. “It’s different these days because we are more visible and I would say to a degree we are more integrated than we were back then. But it was really, really tough and the food to me became something to be avoided, something to be ashamed of.”

One incident stands out. “I remember my dad picking me up from school, with all his car windows down and blaring, top-volume, Pakistani music and I was mortified because I didn’t want people to know that was what I necessarily was; I wanted to fit in – most children do. Me and my dad were always arguing, especially when he would turn up with his music blaring. So all that stuff: the ‘funny clothes’, the smelly food, the annoying music – I just wanted to get away from it and I did for years. The food was something I could ditch.”

Which is what she did, until seven years ago when she met her future husband Piara Powar, who is also Punjabi and a Sikh. Power, who is the head of the campaign group Football Against Racism in Europe, could not understand why Aasmah was cooking dreadful ready-meals. “He said, ‘What’s going on here – what is this horrible food that you keep serving up?’” Which started the transformation.

“He took me straight to the East End and reintroduced me to all this food which I hadn’t tasted for years and I suddenly realised it’s really delicious – why am eating all this plastic, ready meal crap when I could be eating this? I was a bit resistant but after about a month, I thought, ‘I need to try and make this myself’, so I phoned up my Mum and she was just laughing her head off. The first recipe I asked for was yellow daal because that’s what I remember from childhood. It’s really easy – put everything in one pot, go away for 45 minutes and you come back, and it’s ready.”

Almas remembers that day her daughter phoned up for the daal recipe and says she laughed because she had always suspected that the moment would come one day and that her daughter would return to the fold, as it were. When her children were growing up, she never tried to pressurise them and make them eat the food she liked, but equally she was delighted when they showed an interest because cooking her way is not complicated.

“We are from the Punjab so we are very much meat-eaters, particularly chicken or lamb,” she says, but she emphasises the importance of keeping things simple. Commercial curries and restaurants, she says, often get it wrong by adding too many ingredients and spices. “They are putting too many things in to make it look complicated and give it a different flavours,” she says. “The basis of a curry is good-quality ingredients.”

It is this message that the family want to spread with their website, Cracking Curries, which includes short films made by Uzma and featuring Aasmah cooking the family recipes. The website was originally Uzma’s idea and she tells me why she wanted to do it.

“The ethos behind Cracking Curries was that it is not difficult to cook curries and please cook at home – that was a massive thing,” she says. “I look at my two teenage boys, and I feel really sad that people are getting the carry-outs and the take outs. There’s a place for that, but cooking, and the kids coming in and looking at what you’re doing and asking you questions, and everybody sitting down to have the meal ... there’s something really lovely about that in terms of family time. It’s as easy as mince and tatties to make a curry at home. And if you’ve got kids and they don’t like it hot, you just put less chilli in.”

For Aasmah, the site was also a way of pushing back against the popular perception of curries as something for flashy television chefs or takeaways. “I was going crazy because I was fed up watching cookery programmes and YouTube videos of curries which would take hours and hours,” she says, “and I knew that my mum’s cooking or the version that we went on to make was much simpler.

“You also don’t have to go to Waitrose and get ridiculously far-flung and expensive ingredients that you’re going to use once – weird tree bark and all the rest of it. I never saw that in my mum’s repertoire. The most complicated thing I ever saw was coriander and that was powdered coriander – it wasn’t even necessarily fresh.”

Aasmah’s hope for the website, and the recipes she guides us through, is that people will understand that making a curry is not as intimidating as they might think. “You don’t need five pans and 20 ingredients,” she says. “I’ve counted up certain chefs’ ingredients and there are about 20 or 25. Virtually every one of Mum’s recipes has fewer than 10 ingredients and they are things like tomatoes and onions. There’s nothing wrong with that other stuff – I’ve been to posh London restaurants and it’s nice but it’s not as comforting and fulfilling.”

Aasmah will be taking that keep-it-simple message to Wigtown when she appears at the town’s book festival next week and she and her husband have talked about doing a pop-up in London some time. Last Christmas, Uzma also took Cracking Curries to a refugee camp on Lesbos and ended up cooking for 400 to 500 people every night. Uzma had seen the picture of the body of the Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a beach in Turkey and it inspired her to get involved. Naturally, it was a tiring experience, she says, but there was great satisfaction too in making the food she loved as a child for hundreds of refugees in need of shelter and food.

The Mir sisters tell me that the next stage for Cracking Curries is a little simpler: to promote delicious curries and remind people that it doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming to make at home. However, in creating the website with her sister, Aasmah seems to have a message for herself too. There were many years, right up into her 30s, when she repudiated the food she grew up with, but now here she is acting as an ambassador for it. The message to anyone who wants to cook a curry is “keep it simple”; the message to herself is: “Don’t run away from who you are.”

Aasmah Mir: Cracking Curries And Other Tales is at

Wigtown Book Festival on Tuesday at 6pm. For more information, visit www.wigtownbookfestival.com. The Mirs’ website is at www.crackingcurries.com