I'm not about to defend the bay leaf, because I'm not 100% sold on it yet.
My mom used to have a small bottle of bay leaves in her pantry. I never saw her use them once. Maybe she did and I didn't notice, or maybe she bought them for one recipe and then never used them again (sounds like something I would do). I never used bay leaves in my own cooking until I served an 18-month mission for the LDS Church in Portugal. The Portuguese love them some bay leaves. All my native companions kept bay leaves in the house and they put them in almost all their dishes: soups, lasagna, beans, and so on. Every time we ate with people in their homes, they started every meal by warning, "Look out for the bay leaf!" I never ate one, but apparently they're pretty bitter. If the bay leaf made a difference in our food, I didn't notice. Maybe my pallet isn't as refined as it could be. When I smelled the leaves in their packet, they smelled herby, if that makes sense. I've never seen them sold fresh, only dried. Our community garden buddy gave us a huge branch of fresh bay, which we hung in our closet to dry.
Anyway. Here's one of my favorite Portuguese soups, and it is seasoned with bay leaves. And it's to die for, just so you know.
1 medium onion, chopped
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 or 5 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 lb. sausage, sliced (the Portuguese use chourico, a seasoned smoke sausage; we have successfully made this soup with fresh sausage, too)
1 lb. collard greens or kale, cut in very thin strips (the type greens that the Portuguese use isn't grown in the USA, but these are good substitutes)
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
1. Coat the bottom of large pot generously with olive oil. Heat it over medium heat, then saute the onions and the garlic until they are clear.
2. Add potatoes and enough water to cover, plus 1 inch or so. Bring to a boil until potatoes are cooked, but not mushy.
3. Blend all the contents of the pot in a blender or food processor, or blend in the pot with a hand mixer (the Portuguese love this tool and call it a "magic wand"!). If it seems really thick, thin with a little water.
4. Return the liquid to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the sausage and the bay leaves. When the sausage is cooked through, add the greens. The greens will only need a few minutes to cook through. If you use collards, you might want to cook them a bit longer, since they can be bitter.
5. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle a little bit of olive oil on top. Serve with a nice, crusty bread, and don't let anyone eat the bay leaf!