Melt fat in a large soup pot and sauté onion, garlic, and jalapeño with spices until onion starts to brown. Add beans, water, and bay leaf to the pot. Cover, and simmer stirring occasionally, until soup thickens slightly, approximately 15 minutes.
To make a thicker soup, puree about 2 cups of soup in a blender (be careful when blending hot liquid). Return to the rest of the soup and stir until heated through. Toss out bay leaf and add more salt, if desired.